Oklahoma PantheonArcadia, OK

Route 66 sketch by Chandler O'Leary

This post is part of an ongoing series called 66 Fridays, which explores the wonders of old Route 66. Click on the preceding “66 Fridays” link to view all posts in the series, or visit the initial overview post here.

Last Friday’s post was a bit of a downer, I know. So today, as we move into the Sooner State, it seems like a good idea to visit a real beauty of the Mother Road: the Arcadia Round Barn. Built out of green wood carefully bent into precise curves, the barn is the only truly round (and not polygonal) barn in America. Its unique status and beautiful proportions made it the most photographed landmark on Route 66.

Route 66 sketch by Chandler O'Leary

It was hotter than blazes in the loft, but well worth suffering the heat. Because up there, surrounded by all that curved wood and perfect geometry, it felt more like the work of a Renaissance master than a humble farmer.

Comments (0) Pin it!

Sunflower, sundownGalena, KS

Route 66 sketch by Chandler O'Leary

This post is part of an ongoing series called 66 Fridays, which explores the wonders of old Route 66. Click on the preceding “66 Fridays” link to view all posts in the series, or visit the initial overview post here.

Logically, if you were to plan a trip from Chicago to Los Angeles, the shortest route would have you traversing Kansas to get there. Yet Route 66 carves out just 13 miles of road in the state’s southeastern corner, and does the bulk of its crossing of the Great Plains through Oklahoma instead. Why, you ask? Well, that’s an interesting story. The man responsible for plotting the Mother Road’s path, Cyrus Avery, called Tulsa home. He wanted to show off his state in all its glory, so he made Route 66 both a tour guide and a monument to Oklahoma, with over 400 miles of pavement to draw travelers and tourist dollars there. Still, Kansas gets a small slice of the action, and this gorgeous early-1900s train station does the Sunflower State proud.

There’s something else about this sketch that needs some explaining. See those small figures flanking the front steps? Yes, those are lawn jockeys. I could have just left them out of the sketch entirely, since I personally find lawn jockeys offensive and I hate to single out Galena. But I didn’t, because they bring up an uncomfortable truth about travel Americana, and the Mother Road in particular.

While it’s easy to get wrapped up in the nostalgia of olde-tyme family road trips and midcentury diners along Route 66, that part of American history is really only quintessential to the white population of this country. Black Americans, in particular, didn’t travel Route 66 the way white ones did. In many places, it simply wasn’t safe for them to do so. These places had a name that most of the nostalgic Mother Road literature seems to have forgotten: sundown towns.

Sundown towns—communities that barred people of color from the town limits after dark—were by no means confined to the South, nor did they exclude only African-Americans (my own city of Tacoma, WA expelled its Chinese residents in 1885). Sundown towns could be found everywhere from Connecticut to California, and even as late as the 1960s there were thousands of them. Thankfully Galena, as far as I can tell, was not among them—I should make that clear, since I’m already featuring that town in this post. Yet sadly, there were many sundown towns along Route 66—particularly in Oklahoma, Illinois, Missouri and California. In fact, for thirty years Black travelers relied upon the advice in The Negro Motorist Green Book, a guidebook printed between 1936 and 1964, which outlined which routes, communities, services, restaurants and lodging were willing to serve road-trippers of color. The Green Book mostly sent travelers well away from Route 66 and its many Jim-Crow-era dangers.

This history is all but scrubbed from the modern remnants of the Mother Road. If I hadn’t seen those lawn jockeys, I might not have thought to look into it myself. Yet unfortunately, there is also some fresh modern racism along 66. (We were particularly horrified by the large number of Confederate flags we saw along the route, mostly in western Arizona.) You’ll never see a sketch of that sort of thing on this blog, but I feel it’s important to note that it’s out there, that the Mother Road is not all neon and nostalgia. After all, you know what they say about those who don’t learn from the past.

 

Comments (3) Pin it!

Trains of thoughtGolden, CO

Colorado Railroad Museum sketch by Chandler O'Leary

I love traveling by rail, though these days I don’t often get the chance to do it. So the next best thing is hanging out with historic trains—and sketching them, of course.

Colorado Railroad Museum sketch by Chandler O'Leary

Besides, you know I’m a sucker for vintage lettering and logos—and a logo hound at a train museum is like a kid in a candy store.

Comments (1) Pin it!

Cave paintingsCarlsbad Caverns National Park, NM

Carlsbad Caverns National Park sketch by Chandler O'Leary

Well, I might not have had the chance to tour Meramec Caverns, but I got to tour the everloving snot out of Carlsbad Caverns—and I have the bursting sketchbook to prove it.

Carlsbad Caverns National Park sketch by Chandler O'Leary

We were there in the “wrong” season—that is, not the time of year for bat-watching. But it didn’t matter: I figured the cave itself would be plenty enough to keep my pen busy.

Carlsbad Caverns National Park sketch by Chandler O'Leary

Boy howdy, was that an understatement. I forgot all about the steep hike as soon as we got underground, because my brain immediately broke. At least, the part of my brain used to drawing recognizable things broke. The under-used bit that loves abstraction came roaring to life. It was like a Seussian paradise down there.

Carlsbad Caverns National Park sketch by Chandler O'Leary

I think anyone wanting to teach design should send their students to Carlsbad Caverns. Around every curve waits a lesson in composition, or silhouette, or texture, or complex linework, or negative space.

Carlsbad Caverns National Park sketch by Chandler O'Leary

Of course, it’s far too dark in the cave to break out the old watercolors, so I had to do that part later, but I had no problem making drawing after quick drawing on the spot, while the friendly park ranger told us interesting stories (have I mentioned that I love park rangers?)

Carlsbad Caverns National Park sketch by Chandler O'Leary

And the limestone formations lent themselves so well to drawing! The way water carved each stalactite into linear shapes, or formed ripples in the surface of rock—it was like reinterpreting a line drawing that already existed in three dimensions.

Carlsbad Caverns National Park sketch by Chandler O'Leary

Of course, none of this drawing (nor any of the dramatic photographs you see of the place) would be possible without the work the National Park Service did to show the caverns in their best light—quite literally! Almost as much as the rock formations themselves, what really struck me was how incredible the lighting work is in there, and how the mechanics of it all are nearly invisible. Without such brilliant lighting design, each spectacular formation would be lost in a sea of overwhelming texture. The park goes way beyond any museum, and ventures into the realm of art: if nature is already perfect on its own here, it takes a masterpiece of illumination to make humans appreciate it all.

Carlsbad Caverns National Park sketch by Chandler O'Leary

Comments (0) Pin it!

Farm to marketingPontiac, IL; Stanton, MO; Chandler, OK

Route 66 sketch by Chandler O'Leary

This post is part of an ongoing series called 66 Fridays, which explores the wonders of old Route 66. Click on the preceding “66 Fridays” link to view all posts in the series, or visit the initial overview post here.

One of the most well-known—and most-hyped—tourist traps along Route 66 are the Meramec Caverns. Whether or not the caves actually live up to the hype is not something I can weigh in on, I’m afraid: by the time we got there, they’d closed for the evening. But that’s okay—while I’m always up for a good tourist trap (neon signs inside the caves!), and I’d love to see the place that was allegedly the hideout of Jesse James, what really interests me most is the hype itself. And on our trip I didn’t have to worry about missing out on that.

Route 66 sketch by Chandler O'Leary

When it comes to advertising, Meramec Caverns seems to have taken a leaf from the playbook of Wall Drug, which opened just two years before the Caverns transitioned from local curiosity to tourist entertainment complex. Wall Drug had enormous success with advertising to travelers by way of hundreds of inexpensive, hand-painted wooden billboards placed in farm fields all over the northern Plains. Les Dill, the owner of the Caverns, offered farmers in 14 states a free paint job on their barns—as long as they were willing for the design to include a giant Meramec Caverns ad on whatever wall or roof panel faced the road. By the 1960s there were hundreds of Meramec barns in 40 different states, all beckoning travelers to the Ozarks.

Oh, and you might also be interested to know that Dill was also one of the earliest adopters of the humble bumper sticker, cottoning onto the idea of cars as mobile billboards. Now, I still don’t think there’s a more elegant bumper sticker than “Where the heck is Wall Drug?” but Meramec Caverns had the idea first.

Route 66 sketch by Chandler O'Leary

There are still a handful of Meramec barns around today, and some of the best (and most lovingly maintained) are along the Mother Road. They vary in design, and some—like the one above—look a bit like some sort of cryptic code for those in the know.

Well, thanks to Dill’s ingenious marketing strategy, I am in the know now—and you can bet I’ll return one day, following the signs back to the Caverns, barn by barn.

Comments (0) Pin it!

Ted’s tasty freezeSt. Louis, MO

Route 66 sketch by Chandler O'Leary

This post is part of an ongoing series called 66 Fridays, which explores the wonders of old Route 66. Click on the preceding “66 Fridays” link to view all posts in the series, or visit the initial overview post here.

Our first day on Route 66 was bookended with pit stops at iconic Mother Road road-food joints. We had our early-morning breakfast at Lou Mitchell’s just after sunrise, but by the time we reached St. Louis in the late afternoon, it was so hot and muggy that we were dying for a break to cool off. Enter Ted Drewes, to the rescue.

Route 66 sketch by Chandler O'Leary

Ted’s recipe for frozen custard has been an icon since 1926, and the location on Chippewa Street has been a Route 66 fixture since it opened in 1941. There were plenty of treats to choose from, but we went with their classic mainstay, the Concrete. To anyone who has visited a Dairy Queen in the last thirty years, a Concrete will look just like ye olde familiar Blizzard. The Blizzard, too, was invented in St. Louis—but Dairy Queen will be the first to admit that the inspiration was Ted Drewes’s concoction, which predated the Blizzard by nearly thirty years.

I went with the fairly standard cookie dough flavor for mine, but the Tailor just about died of happiness when he saw they offered one made with pie cherries (his favorite, and an increasingly rare commodity—that’s a story for another day). We still had another eighty miles of road ahead of us that day, but we were refreshed and ready: nothing prepares you for pounding the pavement like a little scoop of Concrete.

Comments (0) Pin it!

Arch-etypeSt. Louis, MO

St. Louis Gateway Arch sketch by Chandler O'Leary

Well, there are natural arches, and there are the man-made variety. Somehow, they both seem to attract my attention equally. In any case, you can bet that any arch that dominates the skyline as completely as the Gateway Arch does is going to be a star player in my sketchbook, any day.

Comments (0) Pin it!

Frozen desertArches National Park, near Moab, UT

Arches National Park sketch by Chandler O'Leary

In my humble opinion, the absolute best time to visit Arches is in the winter. Sure, you’ll have to wrap up extra warm (it barely got above zero degrees F during the day!), and if you’re sketching, you’ll have to think ahead to keep your paints from freezing. But the rewards far outweigh any annoyances. For one thing, there’s nothing like seeing Arches under a blanket of snow. For another, the teeming hordes that descend upon the place during the peak season are simply nonexistent. So you’re far more likely to have the same luck the Tailor and I did, when we had this…

Arches National Park sketch by Chandler O'Leary

…all to ourselves.

Comments (1) Pin it!
« Older Posts