Linda Carnegie Makes a Nest

Linda carnegie  is a 
gardener of inanimate objects. When you step through her leopard skin–painted front door in West Tisbury, you feel like you’ve entered the garden of someone else’s dream world. A life-size crow perched on the edge of a lampshade looks ready to fly off with a loud warning “caw” to the toucan painted onto a giant lobster claw. The toucan peers out from amidst the wooden spoons and spatulas sitting in a jar in the kitchen. Its next of kin, a pink lobster-claw flamingo, stalks above the TV in the living room. Linda’s little house is like a nest for these odd birds, and for herself as well.
From the entryway where a bird’s grass nest is filled with tiny hand-blown quail eggs, my 
friend Rose and I peer into Linda’s interior world on the day we visit. We’ve come to see Linda’s house because Rose, a painter of dream figures, has the idea that some people make their homes into nests. These people seem to know what kind of environment will be nurturing for them, so they create their own unique habitats. They make their houses into worlds so personal that you can’t imagine anyone else ever living there. We want to see the kind of nest Linda has made for herself. Rose says, “Linda is steeped in originality. She uses her imagination in her very own way because she sees 
infinite possibilities.”  
Linda glows with enthusiasm, her dark curly hair framing a warm smile and sparkling eyes. There’s a liveliness to her face and voice, and a kind of pent-up 
vitality in the way her body never seems to be totally at rest. She’s done all the work herself on this little house that she’s rented for ten years. As she says, “It’s my house in a way. It reflects me.”

Linda’s at work on a six-foot-tall, three-section screen for the Hob Knob Inn. It’s her own version 
of Edgartown from the water, painted primitive style. Around the house are other signs of her twenty-five years as a designer 
and painter, from the Martha’s Vineyard Agricultural Fair posters on the wall to a portfolio of the mural she created for Children’s Hospital in Boston. It’s the largest hospital mural in the United States: thirty panels, each six feet long and all painted in her tiny 
six-hundred-square-foot house.       
Along with the evidence of Linda’s professional life, her house is crammed full of the expressions of her imagination. The life force seems to be stronger than usual in Linda’s house and things grow where you wouldn’t normally expect them. A standing lamp sprouts out of the floor, painted to look like a birch tree with stubs of real birch branches angling off the trunk; lifelike cherries dangle from the shade of a lamp, which sits on a table that’s sprouted seashells along its front edge. By virtue of where Linda places an object or the way she mates it with some unexpected partner, the thing takes on a semblance of breathing life. Maybe the objects were once alive and she’s returning them to their rightful places in an afterlife, which turns out to be part of Linda’s imaginary world.  
“I don’t care about being quirky,” says Linda, and then amends this to say, “a little quirky.” The last time she was housebound by a hurricane, she glued Bakelite buttons all over a picture frame and sewed some onto her couch cushions. She also painted her kitchen a deep red and hung plates painted with 3-D lobsters on the walls. Then she painted the kitchen floor a zebra-skin design of black and white stripes. Linda’s house is an indoor garden, a garden of stuff. She grows thingamajigs and whatsits with the gift of a fervent gardener. She obtains things everywhere: yard sales, thrift shops, garden stores, catalogues, the beach, the woods. Linda creates life with objects that other people might throw out. Rose says to her, “You personalize everything. It’s like you’ve taken in a waif and seen it fatten and thrive.” Linda embellishes things; she sees a painting canvas where other people see a floor or a wall. Her bathroom ceiling is painted a midnight blue and decorated with starfish.
When people ask Linda if she makes paintings when she’s at home, she says, “No, I spend time in my garden. It’s my favorite thing.” Linda’s garden is an amazing place during the months of flowers and leaves. Winding pathways lead through beds of 
different sizes and shapes, with small cement pigs snooping in the brown leaves. Her garden looks like a fairy tale in which the little pigs and birds and other animals have been turned into statues.
Linda was born in the Chinese year of the pig. She loves animals but had to give up having pets because she travels too much. The last vestige of a pet is the dog painted on the glass of her front door, a happy Shar Pei jumping up to welcome visitors. She used to keep a circular runner outside filled with corn for the squirrels, until her landlord complained that his boat, stored for winter, was full of acorns. Now she strings half-oranges in the trees for the Baltimore orioles and hangs hummingbird feeders all around the house. She says the hummingbirds are territorial and get into big fights.
As Rose and I leave, we pass a pig’s head looking out from the wall as if it had just pushed its snout through the wallboard to get a better look at us. Pigs and birds are the dominant species at Linda’s house. Birds build nests and pigs are homebodies. Linda follows both these traditions. As she says, “People born in the year of the pig are real nesters.”