In America today, we celebrate the holiday of Thanksgiving. As has been my custom for a few years, on this day I offer my thanks to the explorers, pioneers, settlers, and frontiersmen and women, who long ago sailed across the seas and then trekked overland to build their futures in the land we call America.
While many of us will spend today watching football, and then carving a roast turkey and sharing a meal with our families, like the family to the left in the classic Norman Rockwell Thanksgiving painting from 1943 …
… we can be thankful for this day off from our work. But we are fortunate that there are many others who will do their jobs today to make our holiday enjoyable while we give thanks.
On this day I set aside my film reviews and my looks at Japanese bikini beauties which are my usual topics. But my way to say thanks is to share some beautiful art with you. On this day, I offer a look at some of our best artists who portray both the Old West as well as the modern day West of America. Though many of us live and work in cities, there is the charm and the allure of living in the west where there are more opportunities to see trees and mountains, wild life, and much of the bounty that nature provides us with. Let’s get started.
Our first artist for today is Steve Hanks. He has been called the best American watercolorist. His topics are often women and children, but he has also been drawn to the sea shore. Rather than simply conveying a specific message in each painting, Hanks gives us a chance to explore our own memories and emotions. Hanks describes his works:
“My paintings speak to the vulnerability that we all feel from time to time. They evoke nostalgia, transporting us back in time. All art is an escape to somewhere you want to be or a feeling you want to have. People see different things in my paintings because we all have different backgrounds and feelings.”
This painting is called Road Less Traveled. The subject stands at the intersection of two country roads. She could be anywhere in one of this country’s vast plains states. The openness and the absence of anything commercial is beautiful. I’d like to think that this young woman is waiting for a bus to take her to a Thanksgiving dinner miles and miles away.
Speaking of roads less traveled, artist Tim Cox has entitled this work, A Road Less Traveled. This is a cowboy, his horse, a pack horse, and his dog amid the golden splendors of the woods. They’re about to venture across the forest creek. Speaking of golden splendor, the title of this our second work from Tim Cox is called Leaves of Gold and it depicts a pair of cowboys picking their way along a trail.
Martin Grelle is another of my favorite artists. This first one is entitled Back from the River. A solo Indian has returned from watering his horses and ponies. His community is just a few homes or teepees set at the outskirts of the foothills.
Grelle also offers us this one called Quiet Time. This horseman and his dog are just winding down from a hard day herding the stock. You can almost hear the repetitive sounds made by his knife as he whittles the stick. Soon the dog will yawn.
Next up is Alfredo Rodriguez. His specialty are the portraits of the Native Americans, the trappers, hunters, miners, prospectors, and settlers from the Old West. This first one is called Lone Trapper. While we merely hop in our cars and drive to a nearby supermarket, this man had to hunt down and either trap or shoot an animal for his dinner. Take note of his craggy face and weathered hands.
The next one is called Between the Vines. The artist is Carl Brenders. This red fox was no doubt hunting for his dinner just like the lone trapper. Look how the sunlight is used to illuminate or place some of the grapes in the shadows.
Coming back to Steve Hanks. Doesn’t his teenage guitarist in the painting called It’s His Time Now, evoke memories? Practicing alone in his room, he waits to be called downstairs for the Thanksgiving dinner. How many of us still wear rumpled jeans, blue tee shirts, and running shoes as our every day attire?
Another from Steve Hanks is the beautiful painting called Reflecting on Indian Beach. Once more we see a trio of Hanks familiar stylistic approaches. His beautiful women are rarely positioned with their faces fully turned in our direction. This is intentional as it gives you a chance to use your imagination. Hanks has also mentioned the beauty of the Northern California coastlines, a common setting in his works, and he often captures his subjects as they get caught up in admiring their reflections in the water.
Hanks is again the artist in the next one called Where The Grass is Greener. Hanks also loves horses and he uses them in his artworks often. I admire his attention to details: The blades of grass, the shadow from the chestnut horse’s rear left leg, and the reflection of the white horse’s leg as it stands in the water.
Alfredo Rodriguez’s Companions is next. You may remember this grizzled old prospector from a piece called Buckaroo that I did earlier. You will recall his white beard, the shovel, and the worn through hole in his left sleeve. Take note of his colorful suspenders, his bedroll on his hip, and the pan on the rocks to his left. Besides those objects, doesn’t that dog look friendly?
But Rodriguez doesn’t limit his work to just old men alone in the West. How lovely is this work called Drawn to the Light. In the days of the old west, one needed to have sunlight to read. We have electricity, and we never even give it a thought. Give thanks. Or Rodriguez can show us this beautiful Indian beauty. This one is called Early Snow.
Besides the fact that these days we never see a woman wearing a bearskin, take special notice of the details of her buckskin dress with its fringes and its beadwork. The sheath for her knife, and the rich blues are additional touches that make this painting so masterful.
The last of the Rodriguez paintings is called Snow Bird. That Canadian Goose will be this hunter’s evening meal. Not quite a Thanksgiving turkey, but still a hearty meal.
Notice the design on his rifle’s stock. Or the fact that his left hand is in a glove, but his right hand is bare so he could squeeze the rifle’s trigger.
You will also delight if you notice the even smaller details such as the small saddle bag on his right hip, the revolver stuck in his belt, and the two feathers used to decorate his fur cap.
It is this attention to detail that makes Rodriguez’s work so great.
We will close with one last beauty from Steve Hanks. This one is called In The Warm Savannah Sun. Once more we see a Hanks subject with her downcast eyes. We once again can feel the warmth of the sun on her. We can marvel at the detail of the stones and pebbles we see in the potted plants, the shadows on the patio where she stands, and there’s even Spanish Moss dangling from the background trees.
Thank you Steve Hanks, Alfredo Rodriguez, Tim Cox, Martin Grelle, Carl Brenders, and Norman Rockwell. I love the nostalgic memories that your paintings can make me feel. And even though I didn’t live 150 years ago, and I was not a part of the settling in our western states, I can still appreciate and give thanks to those long gone people who found their way; pushing the frontier further and further into the west. Seems that the least we can do on this Thanksgiving is to give them a moment in our thoughts.
Thanks for coming my way today, and Happy Thanksgiving to all of you.