David Brown is an artist, a farmer and a teacher living in Old Saybrook, Connecticut. He lives in what is known locally as the “Hay House”. Made entirely of straw bales, the house is the oldest structure of its kind east of the Mississippi River. David has no electricity or running water. Oil lamps have been replaced by headlamps to see these days. He collects rain water from the eaves of his barn for washing. He has a gas powered pump running from the nearby bogs to water his garden. He visits the local restaurants and the health food store for scraps to feed his chickens. He uses their taps to fill gallon jugs for drinking water. David lives off of what he grows and preserves, supplementing what he needs with the occasional trip to the grocery store. Besides selling his artwork, David sells his produce and flowers at local farmer’s markets throughout the New England growing season.
As for the rest of the year, he spends as much time as possible by the warmth of a wood burning stove and an easel in his studio. He is surrounded by his paints and brushes as well as his beloved pack of shitzus at his feet. David lives as harmoniously as he can with his surroundings. His artwork reflects this philosophy. His life is his work, his work is his life. David finds inspiration right where he is. In his own words, “this is more than enough…I live better that 90% of the world’s population. My artwork is about appreciating what I have”.
David spent an entire year painting two different views of his land each and every day: a morning view of his gardens and an afternoon view of his fields. He was interested in capturing the light and the way it moved through the year. As the seasons changed, his gardens came and went, his life and work were constantly reflecting one another to complete another yearly cycle. David’s morning and afternoon series can be seen as part of a documentary about his life and work, entitled “David Brown and the Hay House”.
“Monet said that a perfect life is half gardening and half painting. That sounds about right”. -David Brown
The morning series…
The afternoon series…
During the 1970’s and 80’s, David spent several years living in Nepal, high in the Himalayas, amongst the Tibetan refugees.
With no official affiliation, but a desire to help, he began teaching English and art to the displaced Tibetans. At one time, they had had a Peace Corps volunteer doing the same thing. When the Peace Corps left and David appeared, they said, “you must be from the Peace Corps”. After several attempts of telling them “no”, he finally just said, “yes, yes, the Peace Corps, my own personal Peace Corps”.
The connections he made in Tibet would last him a lifetime. The Refugee Act of 1980 allowed refugee admission of “persons for whom the United States expressed humanitarian concerns”. Then again as part of the Immigration Act of 1990, 1,000 displaced Tibetans were given special immigrant visas and have since resettled throughout the United States. Several of the Tibetans David had met in Nepal came to Old Saybrook and the surrounding towns as part of that immigrant wave.
Years ago, David had put up a Tibetan prayer flag pole in the middle of his large hay field. Having lived around them for years in Nepal, he had decided that he needed one too.
He began planting daffodil bulbs around the prayer flags every Fall. With each passing year friends began to join the ritual. Then he began to think about building a stupa, “one day”. On one of those occasions, a Tibetan friend announced to the group that David wanted to build a stupa at the site of the prayer flags and flowers. It was at that moment, after years of wanting to do it that he decided, “I can talk about it, or just do it”. So he did.
A stupa, known in Tibetan as a “choten”, very simply put is a spiritual monument, symbolizing the enlightened mind. They are said to promote harmony, prosperity, longevity, good health and peace. It is also believed that they bring blessings and alleviation of suffering to the environment in which they are built, to those who build them, and to those who visit them.
Traditionally, stupas are built under the direction of a Buddhist teacher. David has been studying under Khentrul Lodro Thaye Rinpoche for many years.
The Rinpoche is the abbott of Madro Tashi Choling, one of the last remaining monestaries in Tibet.
The Rinpoche also created the Katog Choling Retreat Center, in Parthenon, Arkansas, a retreat and learning center devoted to spreading the Dharma in North America.
The Rinpoche came to David’s farm to undertake the first step in the building of a stupa, the traditional blessing of the land. From the documentary “David Brown and the Stupa”, currently in post production, the Rinpoche explains the first important steps. David then begins construction on the summer solstice, June 21st, 2006, and soon thereafter, lays the foundation.
The stupa was completed in the Spring of 2007. The official dedication was held on April 22, 2007. The day was declared Connecticut Stupa Day by then Governor Jodi Rell. The dedication was attended by over 1,000 people, including many Tibetans, religious leaders of many different faiths, as well as now United States Senator, Richard Blumenthal.
Not even two weeks later, in the early morning hours of May 1st, 2007, David lost his barn and studio to a massive fire. Gone in the flames were many family heirlooms, a beloved cat, photographs from his many travels, countless canvasses and all of his tools and machinery for the farm. David looked at it as a lesson in impermanence. But he soon rebuilt the barn and studio with the generous support of his many friends and family.
For David, the stupa stands today for the benefit of all sentient beings. In the Rinpoche’s words, “…it becomes the heart essence of the area”. Regardless of your belief system, David hopes the stupa will be a place of respite and reflection. The Tibetans believe that a stupa can relieve pain and suffering for all who gaze upon it. The world could use a bit of that right now.