Sunday, May 7, 2017

Capturing Cotter, Rain or Shine: Plein Air on the White River Festival 2017

My father was a letter carrier for the U.S. Postal Service, and he often cited their unofficial motto, "Neither snow, nor rain, nor heat, nor gloom of night, stays these couriers from the swift completion of their appointed rounds." You could say a similar mantra applies to plein air painters.

I was invited to Cotter, Arkansas, for the 2017 Plein Air on the White River Festival. Once there, I would be providing a workshop and judging the competition. We expected a short trip to Cotter from St. Louis after the Augusta Plein Air Festival, but four days of rain across Missouri threw all travel plans into chaos.

While the rains were heavy when we departed St. Louis, the roads didn't appear to be an issue. We hopped onto I-44 West, only to find out later that we had barely made it out of the city on a highway that would soon shut down in front of us and behind us.

I-44 at Highway 141 on the southwest side of St. Louis.
This was shortly after we passed through the area.

Shortly after leaving St. Louis, the rains let up, and we assumed the worst had passed. We made a quick stop at a bank in Pacific, MO. A reminder, even though the rains had stopped at that time, the rivers continue to flow. While Pacific was dry when we passed through, a check of the news later that day showed that it was under water as well.

The town of Pacific. I swear it was dry when we left it.

As we continued west, a number of emergency signs along the highway informed us that I-44 was shut down just past Rolla, MO. We knew we would need an alternate route, and so we chose to head south on highway 63. By this time, the sun was breaking through occasionally, and everything was looking good. After an hour of driving, we crested a hill to find that the highway was gone.

63 South. You can't get there from here.

We backtracked all the way to Mountain Grove, Missouri, and headed south on Highway 95. Once again, it was not meant to be. After winding our way south for an hour, 95 ended with a washed out highway just south of Gentryville. So we went further west to Ava, Missouri, and headed south on Highway 5.

A gas station attendant in Squires told us that the town of Gainesville (just south of us) had been underwater the night before, but with no other options, we continued onward to see for ourselves. It is the Show Me State, after all. When we reached Gainesville, we were lucky to find that the waters had receded, an we could continue onward. After six hours, we made it to Cotter.

My workshop began the next morning, and despite the weather reports of a mild 60 degree day, it didn't make it past the 40s until the afternoon. I always start with a demonstration painting, and as this was a plein air class, I was not about to let the weather change my plans. I painted just outside the doors of the building where the class met, while many of the students watched through the building windows. I can't say that I blame them!

Patrick's day one demonstration painting.

Tuesday was perfect, and I held my demonstration down by the banks of the White River. After all of that rain, the landscape was lush with green.

Patrick demonstrating on day two of the workshop. Photo by Saunders Fine Arts.

Patrick's day two demonstration painting.

That evening, Kimberly and I explored the charming town of Cotter, including the beautiful R. M. Ruthven Bridge, built in 1930.

"Cotter Bridge At Sunset" photo by Saunders Fine Arts.

Just in time for my public painting demonstration on Wednesday, the rains returned in full force. While I could have once again braved the elements and painted outdoors, for the sake of the audience, I chose a photograph as my subject. I used it as an opportunity to show how to approach painting from photography with the same energy as plein air.

Patrick's third demonstration.
"The Grove" (oil on linen, 12"x16"). Photo by Saunders Fine Arts.

The rest of the week could not have been more perfect. The quick draw was held on Friday evening, and the final show was held on Saturday. The paintings in the final show ran the weather gamut. Paintings of sun filled subjects hung next to images of rain soaked landscapes. Plein air painters will not be deterred. My congratulations to all of the artists who braved the weather and captured the beauty of Northern Arkansas in all of its iterations.

Thank you to the Ozark Regional Arts Council, The White River Artists and especially the wonderful artist Dana Johnson for making all of this possible. - Patrick

Patrick judging the final show. Photo by Saunders Fine Arts.

© Patrick & Kimberly Saunders, Plein Air Streaming, 2017. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this site’s authors/owners is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Patrick Saunders for painted works, or to Saunders Fine Arts for photographs, with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

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