Patch Town

I paint not the things I see but the feelings they arouse in me.

—Franz Kline

Franz Kline, Pennsylvania Street Scene (Pennsylvania Mining Town), 1947.
© 2020 The Franz Kline Estate/Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York

I can’t get a certain Franz Kline painting out of my head. Pennsylvania Street Scene, 1947, is of a row of shack-like houses huddled together on an empty street. They droop as if weighed down by the troubles of the people who live in them. Weather-beaten wood shingles are made with gray and white brushstrokes. Some windows are dark, like eyes peering out onto the unpaved road. An orange-red sky marks nightfall. This oil painting, fifteen by nineteen inches in size, would have fit on a wall in my childhood home, but I doubt if my mother would have taken to it. “That’s a patch town,” she’d say, referring to the makeshift villages that sprang up for miners. “Why would I want that picture in my house?” Hazleton, our hometown, was not a patch town, but since childhood I’ve thought of it as a patched-up place.

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