It is not every day that you get to paint a portrait of a movie star.
She has appeared in about 200 films and television shows, including such diverse works as Petticoat Junction, Little House on the Prairie, The Apple Dumpling Gangs Rides Again, Back to the Future III and the Oscar wining High Noon and Unforgiven. I had come to the Gold Country in the Sierra Foothills to capture her likeness in my sketch book.
Her name is Sierra and her number is 3. She lives in a historic roundhouse in Jamestown in the State Historic Park, Railtown 1897. Yes she is a steam engine, a Mogul 2-6-0, built in 1891 in Patterson, New Jersey. She was recently rebuilt and still pulls passengers on Saturdays from April to October.
Sierra No. 3, in her star part in High Noon (1952). A star part, as explained by Orson Welles, about his role as Harry Lime in the classic The Third Man (1949), is a part where all the characters talk about you for an hour and when you finally appear, everyone thinks you did an amazing job. This is the part that No. 3 plays in High Noon. Everyone in the town of Hadleyville waits for the noon time train with fear and anxiety because it contains the outlaw coming to meter out revenge on the town and the Marshall, responsible for his imprisonment. Clearly No. 3 should have picked up Best Supporting Actor to Gary Cooper’s Best Actor Academy Award.
Sierra No. 3 looks just as good in color in Clint Eastwood’s Unforgiven (1992). This film in which Eastwood starred and directed, picked up four Academy Awards including Best Picture and Best Director for Eastwood. Unforgiven is only the third western to win Best Picture. While the majority of the film was shot in Alberta, Canada, Eastwood came back to his native state to film the train scenes at Jamestown.
No. 3 and the infamous Petticoat Junction water tower, sans petticoats. This show did not win the Academy Award or an Emmy, as far as the sketcher knows.
In the final week of my summer vacation I headed to the eastern Sierras to an area where I have many great memories: Mammoth Lakes.
My parents spent their honeymoon here in the late 1960’s and we later celebrated my brother’s 1st birthday at this altitude. Mammoth has grown since then and the ski resort is not longer run by it’s founder Dave McCoy (who celebrates his 100th birthday this month), but by a large corporation that’s slowly turning Mammoth into Anywhere U.S.A.
I headed out to a Mammoth staple that has not changed too much in 100,000 years, the basalt column’s of Devils Postpile. I found a nice perch to sketch from and as I sketched each vertical column I lost sense of time, such is the case when your “drawing from the right side of the brain”.
In between lapses of focus I jotted down two questions I overheard at the Postpile: “Did somebody make this?” and “Are those big French fries?” Luckily these questions came from children and not adults. You never know what you might hear from folks on vacation.
After the sketch and painting I head down to the banks of the he Middle Fork of the San Joaquin River. Here I found a creature that I expected to find on such a rough and rugged stretch of water: the American dipper. This was John Muir’s favorite bird. In The Mountains of California (1894), Muir describes the dipper this way:
He is the mountain streams’ own darling, the humming-bird of blooming waters, loving rocky ripple-slopes and sheets of foam as a bee loves flowers, as a lark loves sunshine and meadows. Among all the mountain birds, none has cheered me so much in my lonely wanderings, —none so unfailingly.
After spending sometime with the dipper, I headed downstream through the burnt snags, the remains of the Rainbow Fire (1992). I did my last sketch at the base of Rainbow Falls. I worked a loose sketch with my Noodler’s Ahab and painted the scene with the waters of the San Joaquin. The mist from the 101 foot falls surrounded me as a few souls braved the cold waters.
Bodie was the first place I ever saw real, honest-to-goodness, tumbleweed tumble.
This ghost town, located between Bridgeport and Mono Lake in the eastern Sierras, provides a window into a once booming gold mining town. At it’s height, Bodie had a population of 10,000 and became known as a remote and wicked town boasting 65 saloons. One young girl whose family was moving to Bodie, wrote in her diary, “Goodbye God, I’m going to Bodie.”
I was not here at 7 AM just to watch the tumbleweed tumble. I was here to get an easy life bird: greater sage grouse. You just had to wake up early, when the mountain temperature hovers around 40 degrees. I headed south from Bridgeport and then headed east to Bodie. The town opens to the public at nine. As I neared the front entrance, four sage grouse crossed the road. Bingo, a flock of life birds!
The flock walked or flew across the road and then headed into town. After 30 minutes, the flock took flight and headed up hill and out of town. They must have sensed the hordes of tourists, that was about to descend on this lonely, abandoned town.
Once the town opened I sketched the two story school house. The first Bodie school house was burned down by a “juvenile delinquent”.
The Bodie Methodist Church steeple and it’s California gull weather vane.
As if to earn it’s wicked credentials, the church’s Ten Commandments, painted on oilcloth, was stolen. I guess the thief or theives, glossed over Commandment Number 8:, “Thou shall not steal”.