Posts Tagged ‘Archer City’

Smitten by Archer City, Texas (Larry McMurtry’s home town)

March 13, 2019


Enjoying a Night in the Studio

For over a month I’ve been reading the works of Larry McMurtry with great delight. I began with The Last Picture Show, moved on next to Lonesome Dove and then read Walter Benjamin at the Dairy Queen. That final work really stirred me, as the author laments the loss of story telling in our American culture. I decided to travel to Archer City, a town I have loved for nearly twenty years now.  After enjoying McMurtry’s bookstore (Booked Up Inc.), I strolled around the historic downtown, picking out all the iconic settings for The Last Picture Show and Texasville. Before leaving town, I stood in the street and took a photo of the four-way stop intersection (the only real intersection in town), and finally got around to painting it.

About a month ago, I decided my next watercolor series would involve small town scenes and the stories they engender. On Saturday, March 23 at 1:00, I will deliver my first gallery talk in the lobby of the historic Redlands Hotel in Palestine, Texas. This event will be part of the celebration of Palestine’s 81st annual Dogwood Trails Art & Music Festival that kicks off that same day. I have enjoyed spending the past several weeks putting together the presentation, and am leaning forward toward that event.


Beginning of a Small Watercolor of Archer City, Texas

Thanks for reading.

I make art in order to remember.

I journal when I feel alone.

I blog to remind myself I am not alone.



My Recent Visit posted in Archer County News

February 11, 2016

My recent weekend retreat to Archer City served me so well on many different fronts. The quiet, the space, the weather, the perfect environment for painting, reading, journaling–all of it was so delicious. But one of my genuine highlights featured an afternoon chatting with Sarah Junek, the one who secured my reservation at the Spur Hotel and also writes for the local newspaper. Her work in promoting the arts in that county is exemplary–theater arts, literary arts, visual arts, the works! We discovered that afternoon that we shared many common interests, and neither of us got in the other’s way, she was on assignment and I was working on watercolors.

Sarah expressed an interest in writing about my work, and I just received the link to the article she published in the Archer County News. Thanks Sarah, you are the very best! I’m sharing the link:

And thanks to all of you for reading.

No Need for a Cruel Month

February 7, 2016

sunrise archer city

APRIL is the cruellest month

T. S. Eliot, “The Waste Land”

This opening to T. S. Eliot’s poem has always given me pause, wondering what was so cruel about lilacs blooming and the climate of April in general. To me, February was always the cruellest month. January, like the Roman god Janus, looked in two directions–ahead to new possibilities as well as backward in retrospect. The new year is still exciting as January unfolds. A spring semester offers a new beginning. January has many advantages. By February, often the world has gotten colder and darker (to me, anyway), and the newness of the year has already faded. I just always thought February had natural depressants imbedded, and I have frequently regarded it as the cruellest month.

Escaping to the country this weekend was my answer to a frenetic schedule and general weariness and inertia I felt settling into my bones. Archer City and its remoteness offered respite. One of my early visits to this town was for the re-opening of the Royal Theater (setting for The Last Picture Show).

royal theater

At this event, I watched Thornton Wilder’s “Our Town” performed by a local theater troupe. Since that night, I have thought of Archer City every time I have read “Our Town”, feeling that it had much to compare with Grover’s Corners.

Nice town, y’know what I mean?

Nobody very remarkable ever come out of it, s’far as we know.

Residents no doubt would say the same of this city, had it not been for a man named Larry McMurtry. His more than fifty novels and Pulitzer Prize have cast a long shadow across the north Texas consciousness. And now, he also possesses the 2014 National Humanities Medal, awarded to him last September by the President at the White House. Sarah, the lady with whom I visited yesterday, was priviliged to attend that ceremony as part of the media corps. I am posting the link of local coverage of that momentous event.

The 29-degree morning that greeted me probably came as a shock to sleeping Archer City, as the forecast called for lows in the upper 30’s. Retiring to bed before 9:30 last night probably meant that the hotel bed was more comfortable on the second night. Waking several times in the darkness, I finally rose at 6:55, refreshed, and smiled at the rosy-fingered dawn on the distant ridge, happy to know that the lovely sight did not have to foretell a tragic day as it did in Homer’s Iliad. Perhaps February will not be a cruel month.

Breakfast will be served a quarter mile down the highway at Lucky’s Cafe, and I haven’t decided yet whether to drive or walk the distance (I walked last evening for dinner, but it was 46 degrees then). For now, I plan to enjoy this Spur Hotel with its coffee, and settle in for some quality reading during this quiet Sunday morning.

Thank you for joining me.

I make art in order to remember.

I journal when I feel alone.

I blog to remind myself that I am not alone.



Sketching Archer City

February 6, 2016


Watching the sunset glow over Archer City fills me with a serene sense of eudaimonia. Since I left the swirling metroplex behind yesterday, I have been unconscious of time, and am surprised that this afternoon has already evaporated. I spent it in the hotel lobby, sketching the facade of one of my favorite antique establishments, and visiting with Sarah, who organizes art activities for this city and surrounding area, works as a journalist for the local newspaper, manages this hotel, and seems to have interests in many other areas as well. I thought I was busy–I wonder how she manages to wear so many hats!

Laying out the composition for this antique store was difficult for me, and I’m going to have to take it back to my studio for some further adjustments. I think it has real potential, and if this piece doesn’t work out, I’ve taken good reference photos and would love to give it another shot, perhaps larger than this 8 x 10″ attempt.

It is serendipitous that I began reading Kerouac’s Visions of Cody right before I journeyed to Archer City. The author’s graphic descriptions of New York City in his day match up perfectly with what I see around the remains of this town. I have always been intrigued with decaying buildings, debris-strewn streets and the wide-open spaces surrounding small Texas towns. Every time I cross any of the streets downtown (which are actually highways 25 and 79) I see The Last Picture Show being replayed, but now I am in the movie. it is enchanting, to say the very least. Right now, as I type this, I hear the occasional pickup truck passing below, and looking out the windows of this corner room  on the third story, I swoon at the deep orange glow that has rested on the horizon for more than thirty minutes now, past the sun’s disappearance. The flashing red lights of the intersection are more intense now, and flooding my room with light, as I have yet to turn on any lights inside. I hurt for anyone who feels loneliness when put in this kind of atmosphere–to me this is sublime solitude, a soothing balm.

Thanks for reading.

Saturday Morning in an American Diner

February 6, 2016


. . . shuffle the old file cards of the soul in demented hallucinated sleep . . . 

Jack Kerouac, Visions of Cody

I would not call last night’s sleep “hallucinated” though the hotel bed is different enough from my own, that the new environment contributed to a somewhat restive night. Nevertheless, I awoke at 6:15 in the dark, feeling very contented, and after showering, descended two flights of stairs and crossed the street for Murn’s Cafe. While waiting for my sausage, eggs and hashbrowns, I enjoyed my coffee and tried to read Visions of Cody, but the conversation of three farmers in caps behind me kept invading the narrative, and I loved it. One of the men spoke with a voice deep and sonorous, and I couldn’t ignore his stories:

When I git sleepy drivin’ I jus’ stop ‘n take a nap or git sometin’ sweet. T’utter day, I come all d’way from Bossier City and when I got tuh Longview I wuz so sleepy. Bought four of dem jelly donuts and eat ’em. Drove duresta d’way.

Most of their talk concerned bulls and heifers. My favorite word that popped up frequently was sombitch.

Breakfast was first-rate, what I absolutely love about country diners, right down to the hand scribbled receipts. I’m in the mood to build another Kerouac collage with diner paraphernalia, but I’m more in the mood to watercolor right now.


It is 38 degrees in Archer City this morning as the dawn finally breaks, and the wind will cut you in two if you cross the street, as you can see for ten miles in all four directions.

Thanks for reading.


Escape Velocity II

February 5, 2016


My work comprises one vast book like Proust’s Remembrance of Things Past except that my remembrances are written on the run instead of afterwards in a sick bed.

Jack Kerouac, Visions of Cody

Today, I gave in to yesterday’s wanderlust. I booked my favorite room in the Spur Hotel in Archer City, Texas, Larry McMurtry’s hometown. I packed last night, and loaded early this morning, so as soon as school let out for the weekend, I pulled out of the parking lot, angling north for the two hour-plus drive to this quiet, spacious part of north Texas in Archer County.  Population of this town is 1,848 and that is just about right for me. In the cold winter evenings here, the clouds emit the most marvelous array of blues and lavendars, much like what I experienced in Colorado evenings, looking across the front range of the rockies. I tried to take a picture above, but I’m not a photographer, and there just wasn’t much light left for me to accomplish what I wished.


Larry McMurtry’s famous bookstore, Booked Up Inc., has been my mecca for shopping for over a decade. Today I found a first edition of Ezra Pound’s Cantos and could not resist the sale that was running on books currently. I’m proud now to own it and read it.


Dinner tonight in the cafe made me feel I had retreated in time to the days of Kerouac rambling the open roads across America. With this being Friday night, and a strong Catholic presence in Archer County, fish was on the menu, and the taste was just as delightful as the aroma that filled the diner.

And now, as I write this, I’m settled into my third-story corner room, overlooking the intersection of highways 25 and 79, with a flashing red light governing the four-way stop. The light flickers patterns across the interior brick walls of my room, and the swish of traffic below will probably lull me to sleep later tonight as I soak up some coveted reading.

I cannot describe the deep-seated satisfaction settling in over me, leaving the city and school behind, the noise, the deadlines, the endless prattle. Now there is no agenda. I have a stack of books on the table beside me, and a large carry-on bag stuffed with watercolor and drawing supplies. My journal is at hand, and I am ready now to settle into a quiet posture of reading, thinking, writing, drawing and painting. This quiet space has been so long overdue for me, and I am thankful to the depths of my being that the gift has finally arrived.

Thanks for reading.

Kaleidoscopic Moments in Archer City, Texas

October 13, 2014

Coffee Mug from Larry McMurtry's Booked Up Inc. store

Coffee Mug from Larry McMurtry’s Booked Up Inc. Booskstore

While seated in Murn’s Cafe in Archer City, waiting for dinner, I was reading David McCullough’s “Introduction” to the book A Writer’s Eye: Field Notes and Watercolors by Paul Horgan.  While visiting with Horgan in his living room, McCullough noticed a large, beautiful topaz from India the size of a golf ball.  It was a gift from Senator Moynihan.

“Paul told me to put it to my eye and suddenly everything remarkable about the room was made infinitely more so, a magic multiple of images, vivid, full of surprise, and everything bathed in the gemstone’s own warm, clear light.  To call the effect kaleidoscopic is not enough.  The room was transformed.

It is what he has done with his life’s work.  He is his own kind of Moynihan topaz, transforming the world around with his warmth, his clarity, his gifts of observation and brilliant command of language.”

This metaphor left me breathless.  For most of my life since graduate school, I have wanted to construct a kaleidoscopic world view from my reading, my art, my thinking, my teaching and my journaling.  At my present age, I no longer feel jealousy when I read of the success of writers/artists such as Paul Horgan; instead I am fueled by inspiration from their examples. Today I marvel at the contributions of giants such as Ralph Waldo Emerson, Paul Tillich, Sigmund Freud, T. S. Eliot (I pause because I am leaving out myriads of geniuses, but you get what I mean) . . . thinkers who moved beyond the conventional wisdom and facts distributed in their classrooms and lecture halls and had the courage to synthesize from a plethora of sources–literary, theological, aesthetic, musical, etc.  And the more I come in contact with the gifts of these fertile minds, the more I want to put out a few of my own.  I would love to weave my own kaleidoscope, symphony, fabric or composition from disparate sources and create something attractive.

Leaving the cafe, I was surprised at the thunderclaps that seemed to shake the old buildings on my block.  I dashed into my hotel room, retrieved my watercolor supplies, and took up a seat under the awning in the front of the Spur Hotel.  Looking out upon the darkening western horizon, I chose to do a quick watercolor sketch of the antique store and cafe across the street where I had just conducted my morning business.

Murns Cafe

Archer City Plein Air Watercolor Sketch

After about an hour, I decided to quit, because the winds were getting cold, though the temperatures were only in the low-sixties.  My short-sleeved Tshirt was not getting it done for me.  Bundling up with additional layers from my room, I next decided to walk along Highway 79 and follow up on an abandoned gas station that I painted over a year ago.  I found the front door still intact, and was in the mood to work with charcoal and sketchbook. I found a large rock under the awning, about ten freet from the front entrance, so I assumed a comfortable sitting position and worked quickly on this subject.


I still kick myself that I do not sketch enough, on site or otherwise.  I just don’t sketch.  I always go directly to watercolor, which to me is a terrible way to paint.  I draw so much inspiration from the sketchbooks of the likes of Edward Hopper, J. M. W. Turner, Eugene Delacroix, Andrew Wyeth, and continually chafe at myself for being too lazy to pursue that kind of disciplined compositional study.  After my bout with this filling station door, I then walked back to the square and began a sketch of the facade of the Royal Theater, used in Larry McMurtry’s “Last Picture Show.”  The rain aborted this attempt, but at least I got a start on it and took plenty of reference photos in the event that I return to the subject.Royal TheaterThe day proved to be a pleasant one, and I was ready to return to my room and read for awhile (and work on the lantern watercolor sketch).  Inspired by David McCullough’s “kaleidoscope” metaphor I thought I would look for ways to capture my surrounding world in images and words, thus preserving the memories I wish to hold.

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.

Glimpses of Eidolons in Archer City, Texas

October 13, 2014

Archer City, Texas

Archer City, Texas

I met a seer,

Passing the hues and objects of the world,

The fields of art and learning, pleasure sense,

          To glean eidólons.

Walt Whitman, “Eidólons”

As our public schools transitioned into a three-day holiday weekend, I chose to begin mine early by trekking to Archer City, Texas, leaving the bustle and the clatter of the city in my rearview mirror.  Seven weeks of high school and university teaching had rendered me tired and in need of a change of pace.  Long stretches of time had passed since I last nestled into the town of Larry McMurtry’s “Last Picture Show” and his iconic Booked Up Inc. (over a hundred thousand quality used books in his store).

After climbing three flights of stairs and dropping my luggage inside Room 7 of the historic Spur Hotel, I wandered across the desolate Main Street (Highway 79) and into Cobwebs, an antique store I have enjoyed shopping over the past decade.  It only took a moment, drifting through that dimly-lit store with more smell of the musty past than light from the present, that phantoms of memory emerged from the gloom, and I was “home” again.  The real seasoning of life for me may be found in those Proustian moments of recognition of episodes long buried in my childhood past.  Moving past vintage plates, coffee mugs, and tools, I continued to peruse those mute occupants of the shop, until I found something I could not push away—a $12 lantern covered in dust and grime, with its globe still intact.  Winter is not far away, and still life painting is my passion during those long dark months in my garage studio.  I made the purchase and hurried to my room across the street to get busy sketching and watercoloring this iconic object from my past.

Lantern Purchased from Cobwebs

Lantern Purchased from Cobwebs

As the chilly weather descended on Archer City and the overcast skies remained dark, I cozied myself in my rented chamber and set to work sketching the lantern in the corner.  Allowing myself stretch breaks for walking about the desolate town, perusing the used book store, and reading in the quiet of my room, I would return to this lantern at night, finally succumbing to drowsiness a little after 9:00.

At 5:00 a.m., I awoke with a runny nose (ragweed season has arrived in the Texas country).  Outside it was raining hard and 53 degrees, and I could not return to sleep, thanks to eight hours’ rest accompanied by the excitement to return to the lantern waiting silently in the dark corner.  I adjusted the bedside antique lamp to throw light on the lantern, and then arranged a small desk lamp on my makeshift drafting table, leaving the rest of the room in darkness and quiet, save for the rain on the windows.

lantern painting

Watercolor Sketch of Lantern

I will write more later of my Archer City excursions.  As I write this now, I am enjoying a darkened Columbus Day Monday morning in my quiet home.  I set my alarm for 6:00 as though getting up for school, but when it chimed, the 60-degree morning had made the house chilly, and the rain was steady on my bedroom windows, so I pulled the blanket tighter and slept another 90 minutes.  Rising for a quick shower and an old-fashioned country breakfast, I took my coffee to my bedroom writing table and turned on one lamp to light my table and prepared to read from Thoreau’s Journals.  Whitman got in the way, however, because all I could think of during my stay in Archer City was his poem “Eidólons.”

Monday Morning with Whitman

Monday Morning with Whitman

Taking out Leave of Grass, I found the poem and read it three times slowly, letting the words sink into my grateful, receptive consciousness:

Put in thy chants said he,

No more the puzzling hour nor day, nor segments, parts, put in,

Put first before the rest as light for all and entrance-song of all,

          That of eidólons.

I will always be grateful that my seminary days provided me the opportunity to study the Greek language, and following those years, I have expanded my explorations beyond the New Testament and Septuagint texts to those of Homer, the Presocratics and the Classical Age.  In a later post, I’ll probably write of my Presocratic “morning after” as I alternated my time between the lantern watercolor and Presocratic reading.

Eidolon is Greek for phantom, often translated in the Bible as “idol.”  Walt Whitman, a serious student of words, kept a “Notebook on Words,” and developed this eidólon theme to express that ancient Platonic sense of eidólon as an image of our own imagination, behind which lies an ultimate reality, eternal and changeless.  In our world everything changes and is ephemeral, but our sense of imagination tries to seize onto that changeless and spiritual reality lying behind all these shifting images.

In Critias, Plato wrote of the eidólopoiía, the painter who forms images to point us to that underlying reality: the substance of an artist’s mood or savan’s studies long—(Whitman again).  I often refer to myself as a “painter of memories,” because I paint only the images that evoke memories worth remembering.  I have generally shunned popular images that may tickle the fancies of the masses, but do nothing for my own imagination.

          The present now and here,

America’s busy, teeming, intricate whirl,

Of aggregate and segregate for only thence releasing,

          To-days eidólons.

The themes of light and darkness have profoundly moved me since the years before I could read, and still do.  Hence, the lantern, with memories of my grandmother’s farm house that relied on coal oil lanterns and heaters in the dark winters, those all-night campouts and fishing trips when we graduated to Coleman lanterns, and that winter of 1986 when I lived in a house that was over a hundred years old, and though it had electricity, I endured a brutally cold and dark winter, and chose to gather up several lanterns to light the interior with those antique lamps instead of flipping on light switches to power up those boring incandescent ceiling fixtures from the 1950s that were in every room.

          Ever the dim beginning,

Ever the growth, the rounding of the circle,

Ever the summit and the merge at last, (to surely start again,)

          Eidólons!  eidólons!

 This has been a good weekend, and thanks to Columbus Day, it is not yet over

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.

Making Progress on the Filling Station and Hudson

August 8, 2013
Archer City Progress

Archer City Progress

Every brush stroke diminishes the importance of the preceding one.

Henri Matisse

The day has been a relaxing one for watercoloring.  I’m moving slowly on this one, trying to make every brush stroke count.  I’m being careful with the Hudson, not sure exactly how to solve all its problems, particularly its color.  So far, I’m happy with it, though.  I’m also taking my time with the shadows on the stone building,layering them slowly, working carefully between warm and cool washes.  I still have decisions to make concerning the background and foreground.  The longer I linger over this, the more I’m enjoying it.

Thanks for reading.

I paint in order to remember.

I journal because I feel that I am alone.

I blog to remind myself that I am not alone.


August 7, 2013
Beginning of an Archer City, Texas Gas Station

Beginning of an Archer City, Texas Gas Station

“He’s like a source, you know.  It’s like somebody struck a rock and water flowed out.  You know, he’s just so prolific.”

James Taylor, speaking about Neil Young

“Urge and urge and urge–always the procreant urge of the world.”

Walt Whitman, “Song of Myself”

I have laid aside my large watercolor of the Coca-Cola sign and vintage gate for the time being, and decided to begin a new piece today.  My output tends to be much better when I have several pieces generated simultaneously, and lately I have gotten away from that.  Years ago, at a hotel conference, gallery owner Jason Horejs seized my attention when, addressing the group of artists, asked the question: “Just how prolific are you?  How many works do you generate in a year?  That is all a gallery owner wants to know.”  By that time I was lucky to put out ten-to-fifteen watercolors a year, blaming my full-time job as a school teacher for my not being more prolific.  Since that day, I have averaged over a hundred watercolors a year, and feel much happier about my growth as an artist.  I have always been inspired by the flood of work that poured out of creative persons of the twentieth century, particularly Neil Young and Pablo Picasso.  Those men never seemed to quit.  I have always wished to know that spirit of drivenness.

I have been looking at photos taken about a month ago of an abandoned service station in Archer City, Texas, a composition I have already done once as a quick 8 x 10″ piece.   Going back through my archives, I also pulled a photo I took of a restored Hudson at an auto show several years back in Weatherford, Texas.  I just finished reading Why Kerouac Matters: The Lessons of On the Road (They’re Not What You Think) by John Leland.  My imagination soared as I recalled Dean Moriarty saying “Oh man, that Hudon goes!”.  Since I read that line several years back, I’ve wanted to paint a Hudson from that era.  So, here is my beginning.

I took the gas station photo on a scalding hot, 100-plus-degree day.  Looking at the photo, I decided not to put in the pasty white sky often found on such days, but a somewhat darker, stormier one, a sky that I hope would set off better the dead trees mixed with the live ones, as well as the crepe myrtle tree rising behind the  building.

The Hudson is going to be bright green, and I’m looking forward to rendering it.  All in good time.  I’ve lost my light for the day so must content myself now with reading and waiting for tomorrow’s light to return.  I think I hear Thoreau’s Journal whispering as a muse to me, from the dark corner of my studio.

Thanks for reading.

I paint in order to remember.

I journal because I feel that I am alone.

I blog to remind myself that I am not alone.