Archive for the ‘Villa Ridge’ Category

Reminiscences of an Extended Plein Air Road Trip

April 12, 2014
Abandoned Zephyr Station on Historic Route 66 Southwest of St. Louis

Abandoned Zephyr Station on Historic Route 66 Southwest of St. Louis

I paint so I’ll have something to look at. . . . I write so I’ll have something to read.

Barnett Newman

My reason for not posting on the blog all week is a legitimate one.  It’s called Income Tax.  My appointment with the accountant is this afternoon.  I spent every day Monday through Friday of this past week gathering receipts, spreadsheets and files of data to organize for this afternoon’s meeting.  Twice I went to bed at 1:30 a.m. (I have to rise at 6:00 to teach school).  Another pair of nights saw me retiring to bed at midnight.  My earliest night was 10:30.  But now it is behind me (except for the meeting and the filing).  I am letting out a deep sigh of relief.

Understandably, I have not been able to pick up a watercolor brush, though thoughts of it remained with me on the hour each day.  I have posted above a watercolor I completed a few years ago.  I traveled to this site in Villa Ridge, Missouri (southwest of St. Louis, just north of Interstate 44).  Before leaving Arlington, Texas to travel home to St. Louis to visit family, I checked on the Internet and found photos of an abandoned quonset hut Zephyr station on historic route 66.  I tried to find specific directions to the location with no luck.  I concluded that all I had to do was get to Villa Ridge and ask directions.  Ten hours into my drive, and very road-weary, I took an exit off I-44 for Villa Ridge and drove in circles for about an hour, constantly re-entering the freeway.  I tried following every “historic route 66” sign I could find in a ten-mile radius, all to no avail.  While sitting in a left-turn lane at a traffic light, waiting for the green arrow, I changed my mind and decided to go straight through the intersection.  Crossing over the solid white line resulted in my being pulled over immediately by a Missouri State Highway Patrolmen who happened to be in the left-turn lane behind me (smart move).

When the patrolman approached my window, I explained that I was a watercolorist who had just driven ten hours straight from Arlington, Texas, looking for this route 66 landmark to photograph and paint.  I handed him my stack of papers and photos printed off the Internet sites, along with my driver’s license and proof of insurance card.  Returning five mintes later from his patrol unit, he mildly handed me a warning citation and gave me verbal directions on how to get to the Zephyr station.  What a Mensch!  I am not used to getting that kind of courtesy from traffic law enforcement officers.

First Sight of the Zephyr Station

First Sight of the Zephyr Station

Once I pulled into what was left of the parking lot of this derelict station, I saw that all signage, lights and gas pumps (visible on the Internet historic photos) had been removed.  Nevertheless, the structure remained, so I got out of my Jeep and set up a portable easel, quickly knocking out a plein air sketch of one end of the station as it began to get dark.  A curious neighbor approached me to see what I was doing, and gladly took me on a tour behind the station to show me what was left of the roadbed that preceded route 66.  It was then called The Old Post Road.  She was full of stories, and I filled several pages of my journal later that evening as I recalled as many details as possible.

Plein Air Watercolor Sketch

Plein Air Watercolor Sketch

Walking to the far end of the parking lot, I was enthralled at the sight of this Zephyr billboard completely overgrown with leaves.

Overgrown Zephyr Billboard

Overgrown Zephyr Billboard

By this time, it was too dark to paint, and I was extremely exhausted from the ten-hour drive and quick painting session.  So I snapped a photo and decided to return the next day.  My parents lived about an hour further down the Interstate.

All night long, it rained and rained.  Returning the next day, I sat in the back of my Jeep and watercolor sketched this sign until the rains resumed.  I would have to take the painting back home with me to finish on a subsequent day, relying on photos I took.

Completed Watercolor of the Billboard

Completed Watercolor of the Billboard

The only thing remaining for me to do was to take photos of the parking lot that had been transformed into a reflective pool by the hard rains and take up a serious studio project of the subject in the future.

After the Rain

After the Rain

Completed Studio Watercolor

Completed Studio Watercolor

Thanks for reading.

I paint in order to remember.

I journal when I feel alone.

I blog to remind myself that I am not alone.

In Memoriam Route 66 Villa Ridge, Missouri

August 17, 2011

In Memoriam Route 66 Villa Ridge, Missouri

I finished this watercolor about 2:00 a.m. this morning.  It’s a relief to have it finished, knowing it only took five days.  As I look on the finished composition, I still feel the sadness of a civilization that has died.  I’m old enough to recall Highway 66 road trips when I was a child, and I cannot help but listen for the ringing of bell cables every time I see the husk of a service station such as this one, languishing on vacant property adjacent to a county road or service road that was formerly an artery carrying traffic across this nation.

As a teacher, I’ve returned to my campus this week to honor my contract.  The students will appear next Monday.  Whether or not I begin a composition before then, I just don’t know at this point.  I have my first One Man Show beginning on September 10.  A part of me wishes to continue painting up till the day that we open, but another part says I already have enough work ready to hang, and that a hiatus might be the healthy road to take right now.  Maybe I’ll decide by tomorrow!

Thanks again for reading, and helping me see this one through.

Nearing Completion of Route 66 Zephyr Gas Station

August 15, 2011

Villa Ridge, Missouri Zephyr Gas Station along Historic Route 66

The fourth day on this work sees it nearing completion.  I had to re-draw the gas pump to align it parallel with the station.  The distant lamp post was in the wrong place and no proportioned to the rest of the composition, so I am eliminating it.  most of today was spent trying to separate the graveled parking lot from the puddles.  I still have grasses to render, poking up through the puddles as well.  The center of the parking area also needs to be tended.  But I think the end is finally in sight.  If I don’t complete it tonight, then I’m quite sure I can sign off on it before tomorrow is over.  This has been a rewarding experience.  Painting water reflections has been a trial for me, but I’m sure I’ll attempt it again some day.

Thanks for reading.

Defunct Route 66 Gas Station after a Hard Rain

August 14, 2011

Abandoned Route 66 Zephyr Station after the Rain

The painting is slowing down, now that I’m nearing the end of my third day.  Painting water reflections is completely new territory for me, and I spend more time studying the reference photos, applying masquing fluid to the paper and mixing pigments than actual painting.  But I am enjoying the process, and today is the first time I’ve felt “lost” in the painting, in a good sense.  School begins tomorrow for me, but I’ll continue with the painting daily until it’s finished, hopefully before this next week runs its course.   Tonight before retiring to bed, I hope to enrich further the shadows in the water reflections and attempt to render the grasses sticking up out of this enormous parking lot swamp.  For any of you reading this for the first time, the location of this station is Villa Ridge, Missouri, on Route 66 southwest of St. Louis.  Currently the station is at county road AT, about a mile off Interstate 44.   I saw it for the first time in the summer of 2010 and did two plein air watercolor sketches, one of the end of this building, and the other of a rusted-out, foliage-covered billboard advertising Zephyr detergent gasoline.

Thanks for reading.

Route 66 Zephyr Station making Progress

August 13, 2011

Route 66 Zephyr, Villa Ridge, Missouri

I’m feeling glad that I was able to chip away at this watercolor throughout a long and solitary Saturday.  It’s time to put Route 66 to bed for now, but I’m looking forward to rising tomorrow and resuming the enterprise.  This will be my first full-size watercolor of a Route 66 composition.  I’m now hoping the painting will have enough quality to include in my One Man Show next month.

Until tomorrow then.  Thanks for reading.

A Route 66 Monument to Yesterday’s Travel and Commerce

August 13, 2011

Villa Ridge, Missouri Zephyr on Historic Route 66

Today marks my second day working on this 22 x 28″ watercolor of the Villa Ridge, Missouri Zephyr station along historic Route 66.  I have researched and found the lights and gas pumps that once stood on this location.  They are absent now.  I’m also trying to restore some of the details of this Quonset hut filling station that are now out of sight behind plywood panels.  The Zephyr gas sign is my own idea–I have no idea where the logo originally hung.

Last week when I visited this location for the second time, hard rains had fallen, and the enormous puddles in the foreground reflected the derelict structure.  I’m going to attempt the reflections once I get to the bottom portion of this composition.  So far, it has been slow to emerge, but I will hopefully chip away at it on a daily basis, and not allow school next week to interrupt my flow.

The paradox of “loss” and “presence” flooded me when I stood in the presence of this structure last week, in the moist air, and listened, recalling the sounds of bell cables being run over by cars entering and exiting the busy Route 66 station.  I recalled the smell of grease, dirty tires and of course, that ever-present gasoline scent that I loved to inhale as a child!  I still remember attendants emerging from the building, wiping their hands on red shop towels as they approached cars cars pulling into the bay.  How long has it been since full-service ended?  I’m still trying to remember the first time I pumped my own gasoline when I pulled into a station.  I suppose it was around 1973.  At any rate, last week, I felt the loss as I stood in this vacant space, waiting in silence, and then I felt the presence of the past.   I hope I can put some of that into this painting.  I laugh when I read of Edward Hopper and Andrew Wyeth chafing every time a critic called them illustrators.  I go through that every time I do a painting of this type of subject–my soul is flooded with feelings and emotion, and yet I realize that I do not know how to paint “mood”–all I can do is illustrate what I see, and hope that somehow the “mood” emerges when a viewer looks at my work.

Thanks for reading.

The Woods are Lovely, Dark and Deep, February 1, 2011

February 1, 2011

Labadie, Missouri Snowscape

The woods are lovely, dark, and deep,

But I have promises to keep,

And miles to go before I sleep,

And miles to go before I sleep.

I have always felt dreamy when hearing these Robert Frost words from “Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening.”  For any of you who have followed my blog, you have seen this composition before: while Christmas vacationing in Missouri, I paused at the back door of the apartment we stayed in while visiting with Wayne White on his Double D Acres ranch.  Seeing the lovely woods shrouded in snow, I had to capture them quickly in drybrush watercolor, on a block measuring 8 x 10″.  As soon as I returned to Texas, a dear friend purchased the small sketch, but I could not forget the scene.  Hence I pulled my digital photo of it, printed off an 8 x 10″, and went quickly to work on this 12 x 18″ composition.  I have a good feeling about this one, though it has come along very slowly, which I guess isn’t a bad thing.  Sometimes a long gestation period works with my paintings.

The interruptions have meant plenty of “down time” for this piece: I have two other large watercolors in progress (already posted on this blog).  I have also spent time in L.A. on school business (sketches from there already posted as well).  I’m also teaching two college courses at night, in addition to my “day job” at the high school.  Hence I have had problems getting back to this one.  So why is today different?

Well, this morning we were awakened by a 5:15 phone call that school was canceled for the day.  Looking outside at the solid sheet of ice that covered everything in my neighborhood, I was seized with delight, made coffee and returned to bed with an excellent book:  Thomas Friedman’s The World is Flat. While enjoying this remarkable book, my BlackBerry tinkled a Facebook message and what did I find? A former student’s photograph of her lovely little daughter watercoloring in the living room, titled “The artist in residence: snowy day watercolors.”  That was enough!  I returned to my studio, since piled high with books and journals, cleared a path for my art work, and resumed work on this piece.

Always I am amazed when I pore over an Andrew Wyeth snowy drybrush piece.  Naturally, as I tinker with this one of my own, brushing, dragging, salting, spattering and drawing, I will ruminate over his magnificent contribution and how much it has enriched me since the first time I saw his work in 1968 as a curious, yet awkward high school freshman Art I student.  Thank you, Mr. Wyeth.  I miss you, and will always treasure your Chadds Ford and Cushing meditations.

Finished Route 66 Relic, August 16, 2010

August 16, 2010

Villa Ridge, Missouri abandoned Zephyr gas station bill board

This watercolor was begun on site several weeks back.  It is part of what remains of the old Cooksy Station on historic Route  66 southwest of St. Louis.  This billboard adjoins the property of an abandoned Zephyr gas station on Route AT at Villa Ridge, near Interstate 44.  I found it with considerable difficulty (a state trooper pulled me over for an illegal turn in St. Clair, and I explained what I was seeking–he gave me a warning, and directions!).   I took several pictures of this billboard, and then painted the remains of the gas station as the early evening light was fading.  Later, I arose at sunrise (staying with my parents in High Ridge, 40 minutes away) and drove to this site and painted it in the morning light, until a heavy thunderstorm darkened the skies and chased me off the site.  Thanks to photographs, I was able to return to the composition on numerous occasions.

Yesterday, in Lubbock, Texas, I was finishing up a number of watercolors begun during my St. Louis travels of a few weeks ago, and a more recent Colorado vacation.  With this particular composition, I needed to deepen the dark shadows above, behind, and within the foliage covering the billboard.  The weedy bottom portions also needed some additional tweaking.  I’ve decided now that it is finished.

Thanks for reading.

Finishing the Route 66 Billboard, July 28, 2010

July 28, 2010

Zephyr Billboard Historic Route 66, Villa Ridge, Missouri

I’m nearly finished with this one.  I’ll be leaving for Colorado next week for some more plein air painting (and fly fishing!), and I need to finish up the partial paintings on all my watercolor blocks.  I have several in progress, and the blocks are all tied up until I can tear the paintings off.  A good predicament, I suppose.

I took a number of photographs around Villa Ridge, Missouri while visiting there last week.  Soon, I hope to get into a series of Route 66 nostalgia pieces.

Thank you for reading.

Return to Route 66, July 20, 2010

July 20, 2010

Villa Ridge Zephyr sign, Route 66

Today, Tuesday July 20, I managed to return to the property of this abandoned Zephyr Station that I sketched last Friday evening.  This time, I focused on the rusted-out, overgrown Zephyr sign on the left border of the service station property.  Since my last painting Friday night, I received email from Christine (the lady who assisted me on my first visit to the property).  Christine informs me that this is the “Old Cooksy Gas Station.”    Moreover, she has since learned that the old Route 66 behind the station (covered by grass now, but leaving a noticeable rise in the roadbed), was once known as the “Old Post Road,” because the Post Office was located on it.  Once the region took on the name of Franklin County, the highways were given their numbers, and this became Route 66.

The weather was perfect for painting, for awhile.  I arrived at 7:02 a.m., the temperature was 71 degrees, and a gentle breeze was blowing, though the gathering clouds had darkened considerably.  After ninety minutes of drafting, masquing and laying in the basic washes, the watercolor became too wet and soupy for any additional work, and because of the dampness in the air, it was not drying.  I decided I could photograph the sign, return to High Ridge and resume work on it indoors, using the laptop for the image.  Thirty seconds after I had everything loaded in the Jeep, the heavens opened, and the deluge began.  I drove home for nearly an hour, taking county roads, and the rain never let up.  My timing was just right.

I’ve worked a little more on this indoors now, and have decided to leave it for a spell, and decide where to work next on it.  The masquing has done its work, and now I need to make decisions on just how to render the highlighted leaves.  The sign is coming along quite well too, but I still need to do some fine detailing and lettering on it.  I’m happy with it so far, and really grateful for two opportunities now to capture some images and memories from route 66.  Incidentally, I grew up about 20 minutes from this highway, and witnessed its painful transition from Highway 66 to Interstate 44.  The old Cooksy Station is about 35 minutes from where I grew up, and where my parents still reside, in High Ridge.

Thanks for reading.