Friday, February 25, 2022

Archived Works Friday - No. 5!


Post No. 5! The next post for "Archived Works Friday” comes from just over a decade ago. As I mentioned before - I'll post a painting, drawing or serigraph (silkscreen prints) from the "archive" files of years past...and give a little back story on the work. I hope you'll find it interesting!

I've done a few commissioned works since my early years...some that were kind of "out there" and some I never expected.  I've forgotten many of them too I'm sure, and I don't even have records or photos of some of these.  But a more recent memorable commission was done for a good friend 11 years back, yet was months in making.  This commission wasn't exactly up my alley either but the story behind it and the "landmark" it entailed got me  interested - commemorating (if-you-will) my friend's Saturday morning trips to a local grain elevator with her father, back when she was a child. 

The elevator is one I was familiar with, have driven past and around it for 40+ years.  What I didn't know were some of the history and stories behind the "Ritter Elevator" - was fun to research and depict the elevator during the early 1950's!  This elevator is located on old highway 60, a few miles north of Sheldon, and just south of Ashton, in NW Iowa.   This was a thriving grain storage facility and I believe still is.  (Although the modernized part of the facility is just south of this depiction.) What surprised me about the Ritter Elevator was that, "back in the day" it also served as a hardware, lumber, and grocery store, as well as a post office and train station. Need to catch a train south to Sheldon, Hospers or even Sioux City?  No problem!  Pretty cool for the rural population of the day.

In the painting, the red IH box truck was my client's father's truck, supplied by an old B&W photo (they described the color of the truck to me).  I added the figure at the rear side of the old IH and declared that it was her father!  I took the rest of the vehicles from the area and other sources - just so they fit the time period.   I consulted a neighbor about what would fit that time period of the early 50's and he was very helpful -  the red tractor is his father's Farmall "M" and their flare-box wagon (that I painted a color to suit the painting).

The house was the elevator's caretaker's had a deck added onto the front when I photographed it...decks weren't a thing here in the early 50's so it had to go.  I did keep the color similar to what it still was...just a call on my part.

As I mentioned - the vehicles were of that period, but the hardest to rectify was the box cars believe it or not.  Georgie and I drove all around rail yards in the area photographing box cars, but none seemed right - they were too new or recent.  Then I spent hours online looking and researching box cars.  I found that there are just no box cars in use today that would have been used back in the early 50's...I found that the rail cars I needed to work from would've been built in the 30's and they had all been virtually scraped and no longer in use.  I combed pages everywhere in all the search engines to no avail - until I hit a "model railroading" site that had highly detailed images and explanations of those box cars from the 30's-50's...amazing I had to draw from hobbyist models to maintain accuracy of the period!  I even talked with a friend, that just recently passed away, who described shoveling grain out of the cars up at the Ritter Elevator, "way back when", after getting into a bit of trouble as a kid - that this was his punishment...quite interesting all the stories that materialize with doing research for just a painting!

After the painting had been finished I made some prints for the client's family members and then even folks from farms nearby; and one who actually grew up living in the care-taker's home.  Really fun conversations were had over this iconic stop along the rail and farm roads of many years gone by.

If my friend had just approached me about "an idea", I doubt I would have taken it on.  But there was so much evidence and even first hand knowledge to gather - and the actual site was still there to visit; it opened the door to possibilities I could visualize.  I will admit it - my inclination is mostly visual...concepts and ideas are invaluable, and I try to incorporate them when I find guiding evidence I can "see".  It is "all" of these considerations that dictate commissioned work in the studio here to this day.
"The Ritter Elevator" - oil painting - ©Bruce A. Morrison (from a Minnesota private collection)

(This and other archived artwork can be viewed at - )

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