Tag Archives: taxidermy

Big Texan sketch by Chandler O'Leary

Major beef

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.

The Mother Road has no shortage of good steakhouses, but nothing quite matches the spectacle of the Big Texan in Amarillo.

Big Texan sketch by Chandler O'Leary

I mean, we know that everything is bigger in Texas, but this place aims to prove it (and proclaim it, if you look closely at the signage in the above sketch!).

Big Texan sketch by Chandler O'Leary

Even the swimming pool (yes, a steakhouse with a swimming pool…the place is also a motel) is a reminder of just where you stand.

Big Texan sketch by Chandler O'Leary

The main dining room is done in the grand tradition of Meat Halls of the American West

Big Texan sketch by Chandler O'Leary

…but the Tailor and I found ourselves seated in a cozy, quiet nook. Yet even here, we had that big steer head and hot pink flocked wallpaper to remind us that this is how Texas does quiet nooks.

And that is just fine and dandy with me, thank you very much.


Peacock Room sketch by Chandler O'Leary


I’m not generally into bars, but the Northwest is full of vintage cocktail lounges that are often a hoot in the theme-decor department. The Peacock room at the Davenport Hotel might just take the kitsch cake. The stuffed albino bird and sensory-assaulting wallpaper greet you at the door, but that’s just the beginning. Not pictured: the peacock-feather Tiffany chandeliers and the giant stained-glass backlit peacock ceiling over the bar (hello, future return visit). Built in the nineteen-teens, it was the sort of jazz-era place where our lack of flapper dresses and cloche hats made us feel underdressed. So the only thing to do was order a Sidecar and raise a toast to the previous century.

Ye Olde Curiosity Shop sketch by Chandler O'Leary

Seattle schlock

These days, Seattle is a city that’s far too cool for school. It’s a place where rents are skyrocketing, LEED-platinum buildings are popping up like daisies, restaurants are whipping up the latest prix-fixe sustainable fusion menu du jour, and if you aren’t bearded and coiffed (or at least sporting a pair of hornrims and a couple of ironic tattoos), you’re probably in violation of some city ordinance.

Which is precisely why I love Ye Olde Curiosity Shop: it is the polar opposite of all of that. It is as old-school, down-home, un-PC and tacky-touristy as you can possibly get. It’s the kind of place that is so uncool that to the average hipster, it blows right past “ironic” and lodges itself firmly in the fanny-pack-and-socks-with-sandals camp.

Ye Olde Curiosity Shop sketch by Chandler O'Leary

I love it because it’s the Northwest’s answer to Wall Drug—on a much smaller scale, of course. (If we really wanted to compete with Wall Drug, we’d need a few giant fiberglass orcas outside, to begin with—not to mention about 300 billboards.)

I also love it because it has a real history. The shop began in 1899 as a sort of dime museum and cabinet of curiosities, designed to draw boom-town dollars during the Klondike Gold Rush. It has always been a mix of cheap souvenirs, film-flam curiosities, specimens of questionable origin, and real, valuable goods (including Northwest Native art; Princess Angeline, Chief Seattle’s daughter, was a regular shop supplier).

Ye Olde Curiosity Shop sketch by Chandler O'Leary

This mix of genuine and fraudulent permeates both the shop itself and its place in Seattle’s history. Ye Olde Curiosity Shop has had a large hand in how outsiders view the city—the best example being the tendency to associate Seattle with totem poles, even though there are no totem tribes in Washington. I find this sort of thing completely fascinating. From my point of view as a sketch artist, that’s where the real story is. I’m most interested in capturing where truth and legend intersect—where museum curator meets carney barker, where worthless meets priceless, where kitsch meets art. And I can’t think of a place in Seattle where those lines are more wonderfully blurred.

RISD Nature Lab sketch by Chandler O'Leary

Life (or death) drawing

Speaking of taxidermy, Wednesday’s post reminded me of my trip back to Providence a couple of years ago, to show the Tailor around my old city and my alma mater. He was politely interested in my tour of the campus, but I knew he’d completely freak out (and I was right, he did) when I showed him my favorite haunt of all: the Nature Lab.

I can’t tell you how many hours I’ve spent in this place, but needless to say, this building was a second home for three years of my life. Now before you think I’m a total nutcase for spending all that time in a room full of dead things, let me explain. The Nature Lab exists for a very specific purpose: to provide real, no-kidding, three-dimensional reference material for drawing.

RISD feels very strongly (and if you read this blog, you know I do, too) about the importance of drawing from life. When you sketch something tangible, right in front of you, all sorts of sneaky extra knowledge (understanding of anatomy and structure! A real grasp of 3-D space! An interest in science!) takes root in your brain, making you a far better artist than any photograph ever could. In this age of Google image searches and the Inter-tubes’ enabling of half-baked research, this stuff is more important than ever.

RISD Nature Lab sketch by Chandler O'Leary

The Nature Lab was founded in 1937—and it remains remarkably unchanged today. So the result is a stunning combination of natural history museum and down-home lending library. RISD still operates its specimen collections as if the Internet never existed, and I love that (ask me sometime about the glorious Picture Collection—their circulating library of half a million physical image clippings!).

RISD Nature Lab sketch by Chandler O'Leary

When I was a student here, I was mostly entranced by sketching the individual objects in the collection. (I mean, how often do you get to touch a baboon skull?) But now it’s the overall effect of the whole that gets me. This place is the ultimate cabinet of curiosities—and proof that you really can get lost in one room.

RISD Nature Lab sketch by Chandler O'Leary

Museum of the West sketch by Chandler O'Leary

Dig in your heels

The Nelson is a small museum—small enough that I thought the short visit we had time for would be plenty, sketching included.

Museum of the West sketch by Chandler O'Leary

And then I discovered the wall of antique cowboy spurs, just as we were about to leave.

Needless to say, if I had been wearing spurs at the time, the Tailor never would have been able to drag me out of there.

Buckhorn Exchange sketch by Chandler O'Leary

Head table

Well, I wouldn’t recommend this place to a vegan, but if you like Wild West kitsch (or you use antlers in all of your decorating), this is the place for you.

The Buckhorn Exchange is the oldest restaurant in Denver: it holds liquor license number one! It has served dinner to both Teddy and Franklin Roosevelt, Buffalo Bill Cody, Will Rogers, and numerous other historic guests. The menu of various game dishes is pricey but excellent—I recommend anything with the prickly pear glaze on it. And of course I ordered a Sioux City Sarsaparilla with my meal—all the while wishing I could do a decent impression of Sam Elliott in The Big Lebowski.

Oh, and ladies: if you go, be sure to check out the upstairs washroom. Not only are there two antlered buck heads in there, but the heads are jousting each other. I really should have sketched that, shouldn’t I?

Ah, well. A reason to return.

Wall Drug billboard sketches by Chandler O'Leary

Where the Heck?

I was born 50 miles west of Wall Drug. True story. I think, therefore, that my undying love of roadside attractions is imprinted on the genetic level.

Even if you don’t have this place in your DNA, it’s pretty hard not to be curious about something hawked by a hundred billboards as you drive through the back of beyond.

Wall Drug sketch by Chandler O'Leary

Then again, if you hate jackalopes, it’s best to turn back now. If, like me, you adore them—well, you’ve come to the right place.

Wall Drug sketch by Chandler O'Leary

The souvenirs ain’t cheap, but you can fill your travel-weary belly for next to nothing. There’s the five-cent coffee (not bad!), the free ice water (alkaline!), the ho-made doughnuts (pretty dang good!), and various hot-meal items (absolutely terrible!).

Before you leave, be sure to see the creepy animatronic Gold Rush puppets sing “North! To Alaska.” (Sorry, no sketch of that. I was too scared.) And when you hit the road again, you’ll be able to look back and see the 80-foot dinosaur standing vigil, waiting for your return.

So if you go—send me a postcard, will you?

Wall Drug sketch by Chandler O'Leary