On a recent trip to the Tonawanda Reservation I met up with my old friend Leon. We drove over to the old culvert tunnel on the rez. The train line that once ran over it has long been abandoned. But the culvert tunnel was still there serving as a reminder of a bygone time. I wanted to do a painting of this local landmark. Leon has seen me draw many, many times over the years. In fact, we were recreating a scene from our past.
Several years ago, under far different circumstances we were doing the same thing. I was drawing the same culvert while he stood by patiently. This time it was winter, not summer…day, not night…clear, not rainy…and I was sober. We sat in the warm car while I sketched the scene from life.
Later, I painted over the ink drawing with watercolor. I had taken a photo of it to use for reference but I didn’t use it much. I chose my own color scheme instead using my imagination and memory.
In spite of the time that has passed and the beer that was consumed I have a vivid memory of the night scene of the culvert. With Leon by my side in the dark I drew quickly. The elements always give me a sense of urgency when I’m drawing or painting from life. Especially rain. The drizzling rain danced lightly over my watercolor paper as I drew in ink. I was especially intrigued by the ways the walls of the tunnel would would light up red when a vehicle drove through it. When a truck drove through with its red tail lights lighting up the tunnel I attempted a quick sketch. It was a rough drawing done in a few minutes.
We then went over to the old house where Boley and Pindy lived. I began painting it immediately hoping to capture the spirit of the scene. The sooner I paint a scene after drawing it the better. I was happy with the lighting but my attempt at drawing the truck was clumsy. Oh well…it is what it is.
Pindy looked at it and remarked, “There aren’t any mountains on the rez.” “Those aren’t mountains,” I responded. “They’re trees.” I repainted the trees in the back ground and then showed it to her. “That’s better,” she said. “Still look like mountains though.” That was typical.
When white people watch me draw they are so cautious… like I’m about to kick a game winning field goal or something. They’re afraid they are going to mess me up by talking to me. But not Indians. I’m used to be heckled. All in good sport though. Comments like, “You messed it up now Art” or “You can’t put a moon there. I sit here every night and I’ve never seen a moon there before,” are common. I just consider it part of my