Notes for the Paintings and Drawings
Eighteen and on my own, I left Pennsylvania behind and struck out for California. My 1946 Nash and my money only made it as far as Mancos, Colorado. On one side of the town are towering, heavily-forested mountains, and on the other side are the Indian cliff dwellings and the desert. In the distance are huge flat-top mesas, looking like fat tree stumps in a forest. I found employment with Pat Garrett III, a descendant of the sheriff of western lore. I rode up into the Rocky Mountains and stocked line cabins with provisions. When the season was over, I rode a horse to work at his gas station in town. Eager to move on, I bought a 1960 Chevy and continued my trip.
California at last. Having arrived at night, I awoke on the sand in Long Beach and for the first time looked out on the Pacific Ocean. Looking around to get my bearings I spotted a newspaper machine. “WOODSTOCK” spelled the huge headline. I thought to myself, darn, I went the wrong way!
Heading north on Highway One, I marveled at the coastline. The trees bent leeward in a permanent wind-swept position. I camped on the beach with this scene above me. I took a picture in my mind. When I returned to Pennsylvania, I again dug into my grandmother's trunk of art supplies and painted this scene in oil.
This is my first oil painting.
Being a single man full of wanderlust, I
found myself staying in a log cabin in the Rocky Mountains. The
little town of Silvercliff, Colorado lays in a valley at 8,500 feet.
Yet the majestic peaks of Harvard, Princeton and Yale still loomed
over the small mining town.
Back in Austin, the rigors of running my
own computer business had driven me to the mountains. I called it a
vacation but, in reality, I was running away.
Peaceful and quiet, clean air and the
fantastic view was good medicine. So I lingered as long as I could.
My old 1952 Plymouth wasn't running well so I sold it. An antique car
is always worth something.
I discovered a 1946 Studebaker pickup
truck. It had belonged to the Little Egypt Uranium Company, now
closed. The old relic was languishing in the overgrown front yard of
a ramshackle home. A tree was growing thru its rusted bed. But my
love of old vehicles got the best of me and I closed the deal. I made
a few repairs and, believe it or not, it started right up! All too
soon business in Austin demanded I return.
The Rocky Mountains faded in the rear
view mirror, and I vowed to return one day. I drove the old truck all
the way back to Austin, having one flat tire as the only problem.
On my front porch, I set up my easel,
got out my watercolors, and come up with Colorado Mountains.
I returned to Colorado in my early
twenties armed with survey maps and a metal detector. I found several
ghost towns where I searched for treasure. I didn't find much
treasure but the memories of those towns were as good as gold to me.
When I returned home in Pennsylvania I
put this memory to work and created the painting Ghost Town. This is
one of my oldest paintings, it wasn't good enough to sell so it still
hangs in my living room in Texas. My wife and I enjoy this early
Later I took instruction in watercolors
from Ernest Haring in Sherman, Texas. As a member of the Southwest
Watercolor Society, he taught me a great deal.
You can tell the improvement in my
paintings of Key West.
I ran a computer repair business in Austin, Texas, but my eagerness to paint pulled me away. I attended a presentation by the German artist Bill Alexander. I never missed his show on a public broadcasting station called “The Magic of Oil Painting.” He was in Sherman, Texas, just a short distance from home. He splashed the canvas with his happy brush and created a beautiful landscape in less than an hour.
Inspired, I ran out and bought his special oil paints and I too created a nice painting just an hour.
You wouldn't expect the word mushrooms to come out in exciting Austin, Texas. Well known as a center of music, it also has some nice scenery too. Barton Springs is one of those scenic spots. I set up on a sloping bank of grass facing the reddish, gnarled cliff on the other side. Done in ink and watercolor, it pleased me. I know this has nothing to do with mushrooms but I entered the painting in a Laguna Gloria Art Museum and School contest.
The painting made a hit and I won oil painting lessons at the school. My only experience with oils was painting Monterrey Coast, now I had a chance to learn more. Challenged to create a realistic painting from a photograph, this painting is the result.
I liked Mushrooms so much that I never sold that painting. It hangs in my living room for my wife and me to enjoy.
These mushrooms are the only painting from that class that I have left.
The Great Smoky Mountains rise up over the foothills of Virginia, North Carolina, and South Carolina. On the west side, they spill into Kentucky and Tennessee. Dense timber and rolling fields, I fell in love with this place. The always-present smoky clouds that came and went. The famed Appalachian Trail bisects the chain of mountains.
I was just a teenager with my parents when I came across this beautiful spot, Mabry Mill. It was built in 1905 and is now a restuarant. Thousands of visitors stop here every year while they travel the Blue Ridge Parkway. Originally it was a grist mill, saw mill and woodworking shop. The stream they tapped was small, and the mill earned the moniker of a slow mill. This is a good thing, as other mills in the Smoky Mountains are known as fast mills and tended to burn the cornmeal, giving it a bitter taste. Soon the mill was known as producing the beat cornmeal in the mountains.
There were just too many details to remember to try to reproduce. I snapped a picture of my parents on the bank with the mill in the background. As soon as we got home, I developed the film, dug into my grandmother's trunk for her oils, and reproduced this scene. I had never painted waterfalls before, and my result drove me to continue painting.
Since then I've hiked several stretches of Appalachian Trail and I remain inspired by its beauty.
My mother is a bird lover and she would ask me to drive her around to do bird watching. Soon I became interested in birds myself. We cruised the back roads of Pennsylvania, California, and Texas looking for unusual species. Years later I spotted this beautiful Chickadee on the branch of an apple tree outside my window in Pennsylvania and created this watercolor painting for her birthday.
For the orange belly of the Chickadee, I used a wet-on-wet technique. That way the color is deeper where I worked in the paint and it fades across the feathers. For the rest of the bird, I used dry-on-dry for sharper lines. Chickadees have a beak that is slightly bent to reach in nook and crannies on a tree to reach the bugs they love.
I wish I had photos of all the birds I painted. Blue jays, cardinals, robins and Oklahoma's Scissor-tailed Flycatcher are my favorites.
I love trying to catch the beauty of birds.
My four brothers and I loved to explore the woods around our Pennsylvania home. We were just kids when we "discovered" streams and hidden spots. We found watercress growing in most of those streams and it tasted like lettuce and was really juicy. It also kept our thirst at bay.
Later, as an adult, I took watercolor lessons from Ernest Haring in Sherman, Texas. A Southwest Watercolor Society member, he was a great instructor. This scene is from those memories of childhood.
I remembered the fall foliage that lined this stream.
His lessons fresh in my mind helped in painting the Florida Keys.
This painting is also from memories of my brothers and I exploring our woods in Pennsylvania. I created the snowflakes by sprinkling salt on the wet paint. When the paint dried, I simply brushed off the salt. That is just one of the techniques my art instructor, Mr. Ernest Haring, taught me.
I created several more paintings in his class and gave them to family members. I still have this painting hanging on our wall. Everytime I look at it the memories of my childhood become very vivid.
Mr. Haring's lessons are still with me today.
Ernest Hemingway traveled the world and
called Key West his home. A cat lover, he had quite a collection of
them that still live there today. An odd thing about his cats, they
all have six toes on each foot.
This view, from the tourist gate,
highlights the wrought iron railings and everywhere, his famous cats.
Being a cat lover myself, I pet them all and wanted them in this
painting. First I penciled in the home, then I laid in the ink. I
sold all the ones I painted and only have this inkwork left. One copy
went to the Skaggs matriarch of California drugstore fame and one
went to the Hemingway family.
I showed the painted versions up and
down the keys at many art shows. Many copies were bought by tourists
and carried to over 40 countries.
Hemingway's compound in Key West is surrounded by a high brick wall. It is a tourist's delight so there is a fee to enter. Each day I arrived with my portfolio and easel, and they just waved me through.
Royal Poinciana trees ablaze with red sweet blossoms, Bougainvillea spread along the walls, I found myself in a tropical paradise.
For a moment I sat at a white wrought-iron table, taking in the shade of palm trees and the fragrance of the garden.
The are two yellow masonry buildings in the compound. His home is square and has two stories, both with wrap-around porches. The fanciful New Orleans type railings and six-toed cats decorate this beautiful estate. Ernest loved his six-toed cats and they lie wherever they want.
Behind the home are Hemingway's studio and kitchen. Most every day Ernest crossed a planked bridge to reach his favorite writing desk as I did that day. I parted the velvet rope and I entered the studio. As I entered the studio, the presence of Hemingway emanated from the walls and his desk. It felt that he had just stepped out and would return any minute. At a French window sat one of his famous cats facing out. You can see his footprints leading away from the ink he spilled.
As though a ghost, Hemingway's face is reflected in the ink. I was feeling special to have free rein to roam the room. After drawing the room with 5 different width pens I still felt him with me.
Island City House
Intricate woodwork and the tropical foliage of this resort caught my eye. It is just one of the many homes in Key West converted to an inn. Sitting across the street in my folding chair, I got out my pad, hoping to catch the impression it made on me. My first draft was in pencil, then I used five different thicknesses of ink pens to finish the piece.
What impressed me the most was the how the archway and lanterns led the eye to the inner court. That gave it much more depth. The shutters, typical of most Key West homes, completed the building's tropical setting.
My wife LaRonda was at my side encouraging me that it was looking great. My biggest fan and supporter, and I love her dearly.
Hurricanes have ravaged the Keys, destroying all the earlier lighthouses. This long-standing lighthouse was built in 1946. It has survived the hurricanes since then. The town of Key West grew, and the buildings became so tall that the lighthouse had to be raised ten feet. Now it is so prominent that it could be seen from around the island and far out at sea. Its intricate wrought iron and the huge light caught my eye.
I set up across the street and penciled in the scene. Children played in the yard where Banyan trees offered shade. Out came my five ink pens of different widths and I made the sketch permanent. Tourists milled around me, watching me, and I sold several copies before I was even finished. Like my other work of Key West, this one found homes across the world.
Key West Schooners
Two beautiful tall ships grace this Key West harbor. The Appledore in the foreground is a historical windjammer. It circumnavigated the world and summers in New England. Sunset cruises are popular and what better way to sail. In the background sails the Wolf, busy sailing around the key and showing it off to the tourists.
Our boat is at anchor in the bay. I came ashore in our little blue dingy to do some painting. My wife explored the local crafts and souvenir shops. You can see our dinghy in the bottom right of this painting. It was my wife's and my third day on the island.
The Appledore towered over us as we secured our dinghy to the dock. You can see our dinghy in the bottom right corner.
Just north of Key West lies Stock Island, the hub of the Florida Keys shrimping business. This harbor lies close to our campground, I could walk there. With my pad and art box, I sat on a lobster trap to take in the scene. I admired the curving lines of the boats themselves and the towering booms holding massive shrimp nets. At sea these booms stretch out, casting nets that swallow the sea. If you look closely on the horizon, you can see one at work.
The Brenda Celeste, Draggin Wagon, and the High Hopes really exist: these are their real names. I waited in the sunshine until the ships returned from the sea so I catch this scene. Seagulls follow the ships in and out, hoping to catch some scraps.
Lobsters are caught along the reef but don't measure up to Maine lobsters. Always-present pelicans wait for the friendly seaman to toss them a treat.
I really like this spot with only the sounds of the birds to keep me company.
Curry Inn - Wedding Cake House
William Curry was a well-known shipbuilder and merchandiser in Key West. He was also known for something a little darker, he was a wrecker. Lighthouses came and went, there were plenty of opportunities for raising a false light to lure ships onto the reef. The wreckers plundered the wrecks and filled up their shops.
The Curry Mansion Inn caught my eye with its many shutters and intricate woodwork. Georgian-inspired wedding cake style, I found it a challenge. Everywhere are delicate scrolls under the eaves, just like you find on a wedding cake. Notice that the ceiling of the porch is painted light blue. Birds felt at home with the illusion of sky above them. Singing, scents and shade produced such a comfortable atmosphere that I laid in the grass in the foreground and took it all in.
I relaxed on the grass while I tried to capture this scene. Warm sun on my back, tourists murmuring while they passed on the sidewalk behind me, I took in the fragrance of the Island.
This home is named because it is at the very tip of Key West closest to Cuba. My wife LaRonda and I were newly from Texas and loved the town at first sight. Tropical foliage and warm breezes, even the afternoon showers added to Key West's charm. I admired this home for the intricate woodwork and its stately bearing.
The front yard and fountain of this home are out of view of visitors from behind the tall brick wall. I imagined I was 10 feet tall in the middle of the street to catch this view. this way my viewers could see the fountain in the front yard.
Only in Key West for a few days, I found that I didn't know how to draw or paint palm trees. There are over 1,000 varieties of palm trees and hundreds are represented in Key West. I had to learn how as I painted this tropical manor.
I created this painting in 1996, just before the house was converted to a hotel.
As I painted the town of Key West, I came across many banyan trees. A very curious tree, it has roots sprouting from its limbs. What results is a tangle of branches and roots. It was very difficult to capture and I worked on it for two days.
This particular one gave this home its name. Now it is a popular inn typical of the local architecture.
We wished to stay on this beautiful island but alas, it was not to be.
A family tragedy forced us to return to Texas and we had to say goodbye to paradise.
Written by Edmund Fratus . . . Copyright 9/26/2017