I have had the pleasure and honor of interviewing over 100 artists for this blog over the years. One thing I know for certain, everyone has a story and each one’s journey is unique and interesting. Still, it’s with some trepidation that I share some of my story with you, maybe because I fear you may not find it interesting, but more importantly that it will seem somewhat self-serving. I comfort myself and justify the decision to go ahead and share the story because I believe what I said above in the second sentence.
I’ve divided my story into four parts. The interview was conducted by Randall Cross for the Smith Public Library and The Wylie Historical Society as part of an oral history project. Since I write better than I speak, I have taken the liberty to edit, clarify, elaborate, even include images, in order to more fully respond to Randall’s questions.
I hope you find my story…well, you know. (Click images to enlarge)
Painting Wylie and its history
Did you find a lot of inspiration for your work around Wylie? Yes, very much so. I loved it, loved it. The work I did as an illustrator is quite different from the work I’m doing today because illustration is about getting attention and selling a product. It serves a specific purpose and has a certain look to it. When I first got into the fine arts, I would show my work to local galleries and invariably they’d mention that my work looked illustrative. Of course, when I had made the commitment to fine art, I didn’t want to hear that. Typically, illustration is very detailed, hard-edged, sharply focused and colorful. It’s intent is to get noticed. Contrastively, fine art is more refined, emotional, thoughtful, and less “in your face”. To rid myself of the illustration look, an artist friend of mine said I should take my paints outside and start painting on location. “You’ll find it’ll really help you because the colors you will see in nature are considerably different than what you’re putting in your illustrations.” Sure enough, he was correct. My whole palette changed and I started travelling all over Wylie, setting up my little paint box and attempting to paint what I was seeing; it changed my work almost immediately. I made a habit of doing that. I painted a lot of scenes around Wylie when it was still a small town: scenes from downtown, the old water tower, a lot of the old houses, street scenes, even the cotton gin that once stood at the intersection of Brown and FM 1378 (today known as Country Club Road)
Painting in and around Wylie has been a neat experience. There’s still much to paint, but when we first moved here there were just so many interesting subjects… old barns, houses, and open countryside that no longer exists. I loved painting that stuff. I’d stand by the side of the road and paint. It was an important time for artistic growth. The Murphy Grocery Store, (Farm to Market Road 544 and Murphy Road), where Lowe’s is now, was a favorite subject because it represented a simpler, less corporate time. I’ve done three studio paintings of the grocery store, all have sold. Two of them can still be seen; one is in the Smith Library, the other in Murphy’s City Hall. I hear from people periodically that want prints of the paintings because they stir up so many childhood memories. The prints, too, have all sold, but the little store remains a significant memory for those that lived here at that time.
Do you still paint on location around town? I do, yes, every now and then, particularly if I’m with a fellow artist. My poor eyesight prevents me from driving anymore, so now my on location painting is typically done in and around my neighborhood.
Things have changed. It was definitely more rural when you began. Yes, now I have to look for it a little bit more. I prefer the older parts of town; they have character and charm that I like. It just requires a little more looking.
You mentioned in an email that you were commissioned to do a painting of old downtown. Yes, thanks to Truett Smith. That was 1986. I moved here in 1980 and got involved in the community pretty quickly because I wanted people to know I was an artist and that my work was available for purchase. Being part of the Wylie community, I did paintings of Wylie and let people know I did these paintings through newspaper and magazine articles. I think I approached Truett Smith with some of my work and he commissioned me to do a painting of old downtown Wylie…depicted during the late 1800s. He gave me some old pictures of downtown Wylie. Ballard Street was jammed with horses and wagons, full of cotton. They’d come into town, I guess, to sell their product. I think I had two or three pictures to work from. It was quite a challenge creating the painting; I first emptied the street of all humans, horses, and wagons in order to accurately reconstructed all the buildings. When that was done, I went to a friend who had some horses, and I had him pose for me with his horses. Standing on a ladder to get the correct point of view, I had him walk about with his horses as I shot photos. Then, I found an old wagon, at a McDonald’s in Allen that was set out front. I took my ladder, same deal, and shot the wagon from all different angles. Then back in the studio, I put the wagons and the horses together, made up all the people and created all the activity in the street and produced this painting. Truett loved it and we did prints of it. Those were sold. From that, I met Raymond Cooper. He has become my biggest fan in Wylie and has just been a great supporter of my work for many years. I owe Raymond a lot. I did a number of prints of paintings related to this area and many of those were donated to the Christian Care Center which was founded by Raymond and others. He purchased some prints at a very reasonable price and these were in turn sold to raise additional funds for the Care Center.
How well did you know Rita and Truett Smith? I did not know them very well. With Truett it was pretty much a business relationship. However, after Truett died Rita invited me into their lovely home to see their great art collection. She liked my work. Across the street from their home stood the historic St. Anthony Catholic Church. I was always attracted to its architecture and did many small paintings of it over the years. The largest was a 16 x 12 inch canvas which I painted on site over a three or four day period. That painting eventually was purchased by Rita and was one that was added to the beautiful collection of art Truett and Rita had purchased. When the new and much larger Catholic Church was to be built, the plan was to remove the existing one. That did not sit well with me so I headed up a committee to save the building. Making no progress with the Catholic Church in Wylie , I wrote a letter to the bishop of the diocese pointing out the reasons the structure should not be removed, the main reason being that it represented much of Wylie’s history. Father Pondant, pastor at the time, was not necessarily happy about keeping it. I had a meeting with him to discuss the issue. By this time we received a letter of support from the bishop, so we got the structure to remain…and gladly it’s still here to this day as a beautiful Wylie landmark.
Do you like to travel and visit different locations or are you mostly out of your studio? No, I don’t like the travelling part, but once I’m there I really enjoy it because I’m inspired by different scenes. Different parts of the country are all inspirational to me. I usually take a paint box with me and try to capture something of the locations we visit. The paintings I do on location are generally not sold; they are my notes, a record of where I’ve been, even what I’ve experienced. Usually, because of the time spent painting them, I can remember many of the details surrounding their creation. The studies are filed in notebooks; they are a record of the real thing that I saw with my eyes…quite different from what the camera records. When I’m on location trying to capture a scene, my main goal is to try to capture the correct light: the light source, the color of the light, and the value structure created by the light, in other words, those relationships from dark to light. So, if I’m successful outside, I can use those studies in the studio to help me create a studio painting that feels true to nature. That’s the feeling I want my paintings to have. All the paintings I’ve done on location for almost 40 years now are all important records. They’re history of where I’ve been and what I’ve seen. What you’re doing here, Randall, is very similar. You’re creating a great oral history for Wylie. Knowing our history is extremely important, it’s reveals how we got to where we are today. That’s priceless.
Next week: Part 4…Life, faith, establishing an art career, and special memories as a local artist
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