Saturday, October 1, 2011

My First Plein Air Event or " Outa Bed You Maggots!"

Peak and Lake 12x9 plein air

In August, I went up to Estes Park and hung around some painter friends, some of whom were participating in a plein air event. If you are not familiar with this it goes something like:
There is a time table set up so you bring your panels or canvases to be stamped or authenticated. You then paint on these canvases up until the deadline to turn in your finished pieces. This timeline is variable and can be a couple of weeks or a couple of days.
Athough you may paint a lot of pieces the trick is to pick your best and turn those in. There is usually a limit to how many you may enter anyway. There is a guest judge who picks the best paintings for awards. Of course if the judge picks one of your paintings for an award that indicates an insightful, discriminating expert.
I decided to enter an event in Salida several weeks after the Estes Park event called the Colorado Mountian Plein Air Festival after encouragement from the usual suspects- Sue McCullough and Coni Grant. We painted together for several days.
The underlying theme for these types of events is an opportunity for intense and focused painting for days on end. If you succumb to the pressure ( either self-imposed or peer pressure)it can resemble boot camp. Especially when some painters insist on capturing "alpenglow" -that colorful event when the peaks are lit up by the rosy light of morning. The obvious flaw for me is the time of day- first light hits the peaks early, early morning- or get up in the dark to be at the right place at sunrise.
Alpenglow can also occur at ---- sunset. Unfortunately the sunset scenario is often prone to be clouded up and doesn't afford the same features that are lit up in the morning. So I guess it was worth getting up to see the morning spectacle.
Can't say much for the painting.

We tried to get at least 2 paintings a day. One in the early morning and one in the late afternoon. Midday, when the light is flat, is best used for eating and meditation- ok napping. One day I got three paintings - a personal record! The last one of that day recieved an award even.
Sue, Coni and I all got awards at this show.


Here is a selection of paintings from my plein air adventures.

The Water Sperpent 12x 9 plein air Sponsor Award -Colorado Mountain PleinAir Festival

Morning on the Bend 12x16 plein air

Ridgeline 6 x 12 plein air

Friday, August 19, 2011

Flowers and Fur

The Hollyhocks in my Front Yard

Hollyhocks seem to be a very popular southwestern subject for painting. You can probably enter any gallery in Santa Fe or Taos this time of year and find at least one hollyhock painting. Usually you see the flowers juxtaposed against some sort of adobe structure.

In a way the Southwest seems to have claimed the hollyhock as its native symbol.

The recent post by my painting buddy Sue McCullough of a hollyhock painting started me to think about what is really going on with these flowers. I should also mention that I have raised hollyhocks in our front yard for several decades. As I come in and out of my driveway I am treated with displays of these colorful flowers several times a day.

My research reveals that the hollyhock originally came from India and China. It was imported to England about 400 years ago and was brought over with the colonials into New England. From there it spread its way out to the garden's of New Mexico- and into my front yard. I am curious to know if these plants took a different route ( Spain to Mexico?) If any one knows I would be grateful to hear.

The Chinese used the hollyhock flowers for their medicinal qualities as well as eating the fresh blooms. In New England the dried flowers were used as a soothing tea, especially by women. It also has diuretic qualities. I would like to find out if the curanderas of the Southwest also used to hollyhock as an herb.

Hollyhocks lend themselves to my own brand of green -thumbery ( lazy gardening.) I essentially gave over a section of my yard to them and they reseed themselves every year. They are a biennial which means they grow for two years before dying. The second year usually produces more robust plants.

In the late fall, winter or early spring I help the process by stripping and crushing the dried pods and let them scatter where they will. It is always a pleasant surprise to see where they sprout up when the following spring arrives.

This year is unusual in that I was able to actually take advantage of my front yard spectacle with a plein air painting session.

Our two cats were very curious when I set up my french easel.
The yellow long -haired, Leon, decided to pose for me and I obliged him in the painting shown.

" Around the Front" 12x9 plein air oil

Friday, August 12, 2011


One of my painting buddies, Coni Grant, called me up and wondered if I had finished the piece that I had started on a recent outing we had in the Zapata Creek area. I told her I thought it was finished-- so she encouraged me to post it on the blog- because she was going to post her piece on hers and refer readers to look at mine. So here tis...
Froth and Tumble, 12x9

You can check Coni's blog at

I also recently spruced up a piece we did on a paint out near Taos in May. This was a pond that sits below Kevin MacPherson's place.

Mac's Pond, 12x9

Many of you have noticed that I feature water in my paintings- more often than not. I love to paint water. It affords me the chance to bounce the colors around in a piece and also get fudgy with my brushwork.

I also live in the arid west and maybe I'm just thirsty?

Beaverland, 12x9

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Donald Eugene Montgomery

Powshiek County, Iowa to Alamosa, Colorado

Donnie,right, with brother Marvin (Bud) around 1934

My father died recently. We were on very loving terms and I will miss him- especially the recollections of him in healthier times. I feel the need to write about it and so thought the blog would be a good spot for that. So if you think this is yet another tribute to a departed parent- well you’d be right on!

I have heard several versions of the following sentiment and it goes something like this......
..... when I reached my early teens, I realized that my father was a barely- functioning idiot, lacking in manners and higher knowledge that was present in most other people and especially myself at the time. I was soon amazed at how fast he learned so much in just a few short years to become a man of knowledge and common sense. By my 20's he had miraculously acquired a storehouse of wisdom that I was more than happy to tap into. I asked him about the secret of how he got so smart so rapidly but he never told me…….

My dad died at 83 after succumbing to Parkinson's disease. If one were to need worldly proof of the existence of Satan look no further than this disease. It chipped away at them like a cruel chisel against soft stone.
I won't belabor the details but we watched him diminish plateau down to lower plateaus. His associated dementia took him away bit by bit so that when he did die I, for one, thought it was a blessing.
I believe now that he is all together again after gathering up all the pieces that have been scattered over the past couple of years.

My father gifted me in so many ways that I will have to pare it down to just the biggies.

There are two gifts that I will mention on later blogs. One is the gift of humor and the other is the gift of music. For now I will deal with two other legacies.

Dad took us out to the prairies, the mountains, lakes, streams and ponds as he taught us to carry on the tradition of how he was raised back in Iowa- the hunting and fishing tradition.
The early and repetitive journeys, many with questionable levels of comfort, instilled in me a deep love and appreciation for the natural world.
Many years later, when I took up the banner of habitat protection, especially promoting for large tracts of wilderness, we would have heated arguments because his philosophy was much more, shall we say, utilitarian.
In those moments I would remind him that it was all his fault for raising me to love the wild.
I've often thought that many a hunter cradles a gun in their arms as a cover-up for the delight of simply walking upon the wild Earth and relishing in crisp morning air.

Thanks, Dad.

Dad, 3rd from the left, singing bass in the barbershop quartet around 1980

My father also gifted me in a way I did not realize until his recent passing. I tried to root out a steady theme in his life, the thing that bolstered him and set his daily course.

Dad was not a scholar, a dweller of philosophies. The teachings of Christ were the blueprint for him. He was not evangelical or preachy.
I think back now about people with exuberant speeches and convoluted reasonings espousing Christianity who in reality practiced very little of the teachings of Christ. They were and are clever, self -righteous, dark imposters.

Of course Dad would get all worked up over political big-picture items and was quick to condemn people with other viewpoints (I never do that) but those attitudes vanished when he was dealing directly with people. He was an example of the embodiment of one of the prime teachings, love thy neighbor.
Through his profession and his public service he was all about helping people regardless of their size, shape or color.
Unpretentious, humorous, generous- he led with an Open Heart. He walked the talk.

He showed me the model of action that matches your convictions. I aspire to be a proud son by emulating that. I hope I do.

Thanks Dad.

Monday, June 20, 2011

Vistas Over the Fence

Rio Grande Headwaters Land Trust 4th Annual “Keep the Rio Grande Grand” Art Benefit and Sale
Opening Friday, June 24, 6 pm til Dark Thirty
The Gallery at the Windsor, Del Norte, Colorado
Show runs until July 4th

Of course I am a great fan of our lands held in common- such as the National and State Forests and Parks. We are blessed in the West with an abundance of public land. I like an analogy in reference to Indian Reservations- that these are our Tribal Lands- if we could just get over our glaring and all-to-easy-to-point-out differences of who makes up the U.S. to consider ourselves a tribe.
It is not the Government (Gummint?) who owns the land- it is you and I.

"Mountain Homestead"
9 x 12 plein air

But I early on noticed something very significant. In the midst of these huge tracts of public land are pockets, sometimes very large pockets, of fenced land- usually posted with no-trespassing signs. Many a time I have stretched my neck over barbed wire- drooling at verdant vistas along streams and meadows- out of reach for the law abiding citizen. These are the private ranches that have been carved out of the most productive and watered lands in the west.

Homesteading was the vehicle for this creation of ranches in the late 1800’s. The U.S. had recently acquired millions of acres of land that was uninhabited (by Europeans) and to encourage settlement the lawmakers decided to give as much of the land away as possible. The classic image for me was some movie with hundreds of people lined up on horseback and in wagons. The official fires a pistol into the air and the great land rush was on.

So if you were able to pick out 160 acres- for free- what would you pick? The landmark cliff face or high peak, or the meadow down in the cottonwoods where you could fatten some cattle? In this way, many of the oasis zones became the core of spectacular ranches. Over a century later, the current land owners, many of them descendents of the original settlers, have the option to make sure these rare lands are retained in their open vistas far into the future.

"Into the Meadow" 11 x 14
The creation of development easements and land trusts have, hand -in -hand, made what is truly a promise into the future. These scenic expanses will be here to be enjoyed by some who have not even been born yet. I salute the vision of these land owners who choose to go this way.

The Rio Grande Headwaters Land Trust is a valuable organization created to hold these easements. I am once again participating in the annual art celebration to help raise funds for the land trust projects.

It is also self-serving for me. I want to keep these ranches open- so I can paint them. Who knows- someone may actually let me in to paint on the other side of the fence!

(I say this in jest- I am continually invited by generous land owners who share with pride places they love to show off.)

"Creek and Cone" 9x12 plein air

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Wandering in Taos or Your Bloomers are Showing

The month of May springs wild in these parts (pun intended). This year I noticed a cherry bush in my yard starting to bloom and knew that in Taos and the lower Rio Grande valley that things would really be popping. Although we are at a similar elevation as Taos here in Alamosa, we are usually at least a week behind the Spring warm up.
So I packed up my painting gear and headed south. My first stop is a favorite spot near Arroyo Hondo along one of the acequias (irrigation ditchs). I was not disappointed.

I was fortunate to get acquainted with the local property owner who invited me to paint anywhere along her fruit-tree-lined acequia.
Nothing like passing the afternoon inhaling the sweet perfume of the blossoming trees and shrubs.

During the next couple of days I wandered extensively, seaching-out, finding and painting the bloomers in northern New Mexico. One spectacular tree was right along the highway in the middle of Taos. Another find was a tip from painter and friend Peggy Immel of Taos. She led us to a century-old apple orchard with great views of Taos Mountain and El Salto.

After a break, I returned to Taos to participate in the annual Paint Out event with the Plein Air Artists of Colorado (PAAC) where a couple dozen painters buzzed around the Taos area for several days. The group arranged to paint up the Taos Canyon on the property of legendary painter Kevin MacPherson. One of his prime views is the small lake below him. He was able to put together a remarkable epic undertaking by painting the lake everyday for a year, commemorating this process in a fascinating book.

A group of us tried our hand at painting this landmark including my usual cohorts Sue McCullough and Coni Grant.

After this kind of accumulation of plein air work comes the process home in the studio of touch up, fine tune, leave it alone or gesso-over time.

I am pleased to report that I have at least two survivors that made it and are now in my current show up at the Walden Gallery in Taos. I am featured along with Marie Massey into June. A reception is imminent on Saturday, May 28 from 5 to 7 pm.

So if you are in the area, please stop in. The show will be up until the end of June.

The images:

Top: "Along the King's Road" 9x12 oil

2nd: "Acequia Footbridge" 9x12 oil

3rd: PAAC Ladies Painting at MacPherson's Pond

Bottom: "Bloomtime" 16x20 oil

Thursday, March 31, 2011

The Clean Studio

The Masonic Building- my studio is above "Shoes and Apparel"

I mentioned several months ago that I had cleaned my studio and someone requested that I take some pictures to share. I would like to think that I had piqued their interest about what my studio situation was since they had not seen it yet. I also wondered that perhaps they thought that the studio cleaning was a major historical event and needed documentation.

Entrance from the hall with my "Brag Wall"

The north windows

This also enters into the area of ---- what is clean?

When I was single I had landlords who complimented me on how tidy I was- for a man. When I got married I was informed that, in reality, I was a slob of major status.

Studio cleaning for me is also different than other, say, domestic cleaning. I have noticed that when I clean my studio I also drift into organizing my brain at the same time, especially if I have been on artistic hiatus. As I pick up and move things around I run a “movie” about the visual stimulus received from paintings and drawings scattered about and see how those affect the projects that I would like to start anew. Sometimes a trash object will not contribute much to the screenplay, such as mummified pizza crust.

I really like my studio. The north facing 12 foot high windows offer ample and sometimes almost excessive light. I also like the historic building it is in with its 1887 Chicago-style looks and innovative skylights on the top floor shared by 3 other artists in their own spaces. I find it ironic that I concentrate so much on wilderness landscapes from a studio that is in the heart of the most urban area within a hundred miles. It is also ironical to call downtown Alamosa urban.

The Easel, normally in the center of the room

I will open my relatively clean studio to the Alamosa Art Walk on Saturday, April 16 and encourage you all to stop in and walk up the 26 steps to my place. And NO white gloves, please.

Monday, February 28, 2011

At the Reception

I wanted to share pictures of my recent reception at a display of some of my work.
My advice to those who actually want to see and absorb artwork is to come back after an opening when the crowds have thinned.
Openings can easily become about socializing and reconnecting with others. Or meeting new people with at least art appreciation in common.
Well- let’s not forget the treats either. As much as I like to ignore this aspect of bringing in the public, my higher aspects are often interrupted- as in;
“Look at the way the artist played with that highlight in the corner--- oh man, take a look at that brownie!”
There is also the expectation of live music and wine where permitted.
The high-end art reception incorporates a combination of the arts- visual, culinary, musical and vineyard; a sensory inundation.
And then there are my receptions……………..

When a show features me I try not to be rude as I flit from person to person or am escorted off by someone to explain something in a piece. It is a fine balance between focusing my attention on an individual and not totally ignoring someone else. To those who have felt my interaction with you too short- my apologies.
Sadly that is the nature of the gig.
Better to come and visit at the studio where we can have real quality time and really get into the world of art and what I do. And of course after a half hour or so you may decide that the brief encounter at the opening was-------- sufficient after all!

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Paintings on Display, Reception Imminent!

I was invited to display some of my artwork at the Alamosa SLV Medical Center in December. When the center expanded several years ago they had the foresight to build into the design a very elegant art space. It is a sun-drenched place situated in front of a wall of windows. They call it the Artrium.

I think my paintings are at their best when viewed under natural light since they are all painted in natural light, whether outdoors or in my amply sunny studio.
After the paintings were up we decided to have an opening to take advantage of the opportunity- sort of a spontaneous response.

I also try to help out causes dear to my heart when I can. So we decided to offer a 30% contribution to our local La Puente Homeless Center for any sales that ensue.

So here is the pitch:

Artists Reception 4 to 7 p.m. February 11, 2011 at the Alamosa SLV Regional Medical Center, 2nd Floor Artrium.

Open to the public and refreshments will be served.

The show is up now and until March 20 so if you can't make the reception please come by and check it out when you can.

Painting shown "Lemon Cliffs" 18x24 oil on linen

Saturday, January 1, 2011


I have long been attracted to rock formations which are so prevalent in the dry West where the geology isn’t covered up by “pesky” vegetation. This piece portrays a famous landmark in northern New Mexico called Chimney Rock at Ghost Ranch. Can’t say much for the creativity of place-namers…. I am sure there are hundreds of Chimney Rocks throughout the country. I would love to know what the Native Americans called it; probably different names by different clans throughout time.

In looking at the attraction to these landmarks there are some obvious aspects such as an easily identifiable natural feature that you can communicate, such as “two miles south of Chimney Rock.” Then there is the piece about the imagery of free standing rock pillars.

The obvious association with rock spires is the phallus shape which conjures up things about masculinity and power. But I also think there is the hopeful recognition in the resemblance to monumental scale humans, perhaps the original inspiration for commemorative statuary. In an animistic bend we can enliven these giant formations with a living presence – the Rock People.

When I visit the area around Ghost Ranch I am cognizant of the mechanics of geology through my years of study, with the “explaining” of how the sediment was laid down, layer after layer, with each stratum telling its own tale. Then the layers being compressed underground for eons and its reemergence as it slowly gets worn down into sediment again by the wind and moisture, freezing and thawing.

This explaining diminishes the magic if you let it. Science can trivialize the wonder of nature with the notion that things happen “normally.”

Science used properly can amplify your appreciation of what you see. “This used to be an ocean beach dune and is now in the side of a cliff 2000 miles away from the sea!”
Such information baffles me back into the magic of our Earth.
Oh- and look over there at that hoo-doo- I see a face!

The painting : "Inspired" oil on canvas 24" x 18"