Tuesday, December 23, 2014

The White House- Refurbished

From the title of this post do you think I am trying to work the search engine thing to attract politico's? I know there is money in politics- maybe I can crowbar some into the art world.

 White House Ruin, photo, as it is today

Painter friend Roger Williams recently put out a pic of a painting he completed - a rendition of the White House Ruin, probably the most stunning setting for any Ancestral Pueblo structure in the southwest. It was a great painting- I liked it so much I copied it! Roger's and maybe another 100 or so that have been done since the discovery of the ruin in the 1880's.
Roger's painting reminded me of the several times I have been to Canyon De Chelly in northeastern Arizona, where White House is just one of dozens of ruins peppered about the canyon. It spurred me to gather up materials from my trips and attempt a rendition of the White House, tucked in a cavern beneath the huge escarpments of patina-stained sandstone.
I painted the scene on location many years ago and the painting sold immediately. I wanted to do another right away but, until now, had not gotten around to it.
I have learned much about this structure over the many decades. One of the nuggets from my recent research was that these sandstone block buildings were either constructed by Chaco People, or supervised by them. I am referring to the Ancestral Pueblo culture centered around Chaco Canyon in what is now northwestern New Mexico.  These engineering farmers flourished throughout the Four Corners region for a centuries ( 900 to 1200 AD), building networks of connections leaving their distinctive masonry pueblos scattered throughout a vast and spectacular region.
The Chaco builders at White House left behind tell-tale engineered, pre-planned thick base walls built to hold the weight of the multiple stories above them that have since crumbled. They were visionary builders who knew well in advance the completed height of their constructions.
We know the canyon bottom pueblo was four stories tall because of the pictographs seen today far above the canyon floor. They were painted from the rooftops of the fourth story. We can still see where the ladder left its rub marks on the cliff face from the forth floor of the lower pueblo. The ladder was the only way to get up to the cave where they built a tidy complex. The uppermost rooms of the cave complex had its south facing walls whitewashed- a singular rarity and the only one I am aware of. What a tantalizing mystery- who lived in the White House?

Floor Plan of the White House

showing both the upper and lower sections.

As I progressed through the painting I got to the point of rendering the ruins. One of my musings when looking at ruins is imagining them when they were actively lived in- with fresh mud on the walls, covering the meticulous stonework, tools and pottery scattered about work areas, the canyon echoing the soft voices of the daily village life.
So I did just that.
Tree ring dates showed that almost all of the timbers used to build the pueblo were cut around 1070 A.D. I imagined myself back then and painted what I thought what may have been there.


"The White House, 1072 A.D."  oil on linen   24" x 18"
Thus, here is another peek into the past. If you like this post , and painting, you may be interested in my previous post on my reconstruction of Penasco Blanco in Chaco Canyon (Exploring the Past, Feb. 2014)

Monday, November 17, 2014

"It Was a Peaceful Demonstration"

I have been encouraged over the past several years to share my painting methods. This has been through painting demonstrations at classes, on-location painting, talks to aspiring artists and patrons.
When I was first approached by painter friend Coni Grant to do a demo for her adult painting class, I felt honored - to begin with. I was soon apprehensive about doing a hasty painting that would be crap, and in front of witnesses no less.
That initial demonstration was very educational- for me especially. It had been decades since I taught painting and drawing. I knew that I had accumulated a lot of knowledge about painting but it had been extremely internalized over many, many years. It was all in my head.
I  happily discovered that I could communicate this internal jumble to other people and in a way that they could understand, (or were they just being polite?)
Before one demonstration, my wife and I were channel surfing and happened upon a program where a painter was doing a painting video. He basically just said out loud what his process was- what he was doing, with what tool or brush, using such and such color mixed with such and such other color.
So that is one sure way to communicate painting dynamics- just start blabbing away about each and every little thing that you are doing.
Here is a picture of a painting demonstration that I did for Coni's class.
After the demo I took the painting into the studio and worked it into a more finished piece- into a state that was more refined than a quick draw.
Here is the completed painting.
"Crabapple Pond" 16x12 oil on linen
I entered this painting into the Western Light Show and Sale hosted by Earthwood Collections in Estes Park in August of this year and it ended up getting the Director's Award for the competition. The Director's Award is given to the painting of choice by the staff and owners for the gallery. Thank you Earthwood folks and owners, Ann and Ron Wilcocks.
Here I am with award in hand.

This painting is now on display at the Earthwood Collections in Estes Park, and for sale as well!


Thursday, May 8, 2014

Rio Grande Healthy Living Park

Rio Grande Healthy Living Park

Agua Es La Vida, oil on linen, 16 x 20


I am honored in creating a painting that promotes the attributes of the Rio Grande Healthy Living Park in my Rivertown- Alamosa, Colorado.

The park will evolve on the site that belonged to the local school district- almost 40 acres. On a small section of the land, a school once stood- now torn down.
I have a history with this school. It was named after local educator Margaret Polston. I went to school with her daughter.

My daughter, in turn, went to Polston Elementary School. There are towering cottonwoods outlining the playground that were planted by a friend to shelter her son when he went to school there. Local gardeners made plots and a greenhouse and the kids learned that you can eat what you grow- and that freshness is an unparalleled treat.
There are many such stories in this town.

But the school only took up a small part of the property. Enveloping the school and playground was and is an alfalfa field. There is an abandoned river meander that is fed by a distant warm well that affords all the wetland plants and animals a home. And next to the meander, separated by a dike, is the Rio Grande. The Rio runs through this property.

For a while it looked like this remarkable real estate would transfer into private hands. After a Rivertown kerfuffle which exposed some deep feelings below the veneer of civility, this land will once again be by and for the community people- if the funds are raised to purchase it.

The Rio Grande Healthy Living Park is a complex and invigorating menagerie best explained by the architects of its creation.
One of the features that I am looking forward to is the restored wetlands- removing non-native plants, encouraging wildlife friendly practices and making it a continuing educational feature to Rivertown. It will educate and nurture both children and adults.

Some notes about the painting-

I chose the vantage point from the elevated river dike looking east towards our all-star mountain celebrity- Mount Blanca. It looms over us most days when not obscured by storms- it winks at you from out of the corner of your eye.


The wetlands are indeed a treasure. This slough drains into the river and is fed by a warm well coming from the community artesian swimming pool. In the winter this warm stream offers open water in a land that at times has none elsewhere.
One winter I was perplexed to spot a Great Blue Heron at this open ribbon of water. I had only recently started learning about birds and had seen these large birds in great numbers in Florida. But here, in the San Luis Valley- in the bitter sub-zero weather that persists for weeks on end- what was this bird doing here? Then I saw the heron deftly jab into the water and spear up a minnow. These fishies thrive in the warm winter water- and sustain these large elegant birds in the cold of winter.


The moon reminds us of the subliminal and massive natural rhythms that, although we try, cannot for long be ignored. The rythms are there whether we acknowledge them or not.

Then there is the water. Agua es la vida. In the desert, the oases that the Rio creates is life.

Alamosa and the San Luis Valley prosper because of our engineered rerouting of the Rio Grande. We convert the Rio into sustenance that feeds thousands- waterfowl, livestock and crops. This tradition will continue with the Healthy Living Park.

My wish is that my inspired painting will inspire you to help as well. To give your support go to

Monday, February 3, 2014

Exploring the Past by Illustrating in the Present

One of my many obsessions is an insatiable curiosity about ancestral pueblo archaeology. My first visit to Mesa Verde National Park when I was 12 initiated a still-present admiration for these people, how they lived and the astounding beauty of their homelands. I was raised on TV and movie Indians who spoke in halting guttural awkwardness and rode horses to attack settlers circled in their wagons sending arrows and spears into their midst while being shot off said horses. Not very smart "savages"!
But here were a people that were farmers, built elegant masonry villages and worshiped from subterranean holy chambers.
This spurred my continuing studies of these people and soon led me to the premiere cultural nexus centered around Chaco Canyon in northern New Mexico that started around 800 A.D. What fascinates me about the Chaco phenomenon (as it is known by some) is that this super civilization erupted overnight and into a sophistication that then deteriorated over several generations. The elegance of the super villages they created were unprecedented in the Southwest - and they were masterfully planned - symmetrically and astronomically oriented super-villages that made earlier prototypes seem awkward and rare.
When you get a chance to wander around these ruins today, one is struck by the immensity of the pueblos and the thousands of hours to work the sandstone and to haul in thousands of massive timbers, some from over 50 miles away.
I was instilled with the burning desire to be able to see these structures in their prime, with gleaming fresh stucco and crowded with the people.
After a trip to Chaco and pushing miles on foot into one of a dozen of the Super Pueblos or Great Houses as most say, I decided to "rebuild" a village to help myself and others to see how it must have looked to witness such a remarkable sight- a shining city floating above the desert washes.
I was drawn to the structure known as Penasco Blanco (Spanish for white rock, referring to the pale sandstone that caps the mesas in this canyon) unique in that has an elliptical configuration with not one square corner on its exterior walls found in all the other villages. It was one of the original core towns when the canyon was pioneered in the 8th century.
Penasco is at the west end of "Downtown Chaco" and was the portal city for the western edge of "main street" for the people entering or leaving the outlying vastness of the cultural province the Chacoans created.
For more information about the fascinating Chaco phenomenon please visit the National Park Service site for this World Heritage site. Chaco Canyon National Historical Park

Around 1999, I decided to do a rendering of Penasco as a response to the abundance of imagery and obsession by many concerning Pueblo Bonito, the "darling" of Chaco Canyon. Bonito was the largest and possesses a singular presence of grace in design. But I wanted to feature something that had not already been done.

This is an aerial photo of Penasco Blanco Ruin in present day. The round depressions are Great Kivas and the faint line on the right is an ancient roadway.



Some remnant standing walls to this once 5-story structure. This is the approach from the canyon below. 

A wall fragment showing the skilled masonry of the Chacoans. The walls were covered with stucco, thus veiling the structural beauty.

This is the view and elevation that I based my restoration on. This vantage point has a stone shrine structure nearby.


I found this floor plan and used it as reference

This is a study I did to get an idea of structure and lighting.
From the reference material I composed and completed the painting below. Of course the accuracy of the building details is speculation. Some folks think that the Chacoans completed room blocks with fully filled out spaces and elevations creating smooth cube shapes. I chose to show the reenactment to display that although there was definitely a master plan, some segments were complete while others were in progress. I also indicated some sections falling into disrepair.
This massive building was created over many generations and expanded in leaps and bounds. Great Houses in Chaco Canyon started out with open plazas but were soon partially and then eventually completely enclosed with room blocks.
I chose to pick the time when the plaza entry had been reduced to one central gateway, around 1125 A.D. Soon after even this was sealed off and entry to the pueblo was only by ladders that had to be lowered from above. Trouble seemed to have arrived at the canyon.
"Penasco Blanco" oil on linen  32" x 44"
I also took liberties with the topography to augment the feeling of Penasco hovering over the fields below.
I hope you enjoyed sharing in my proclivity- and that you managed to read this far!