Plein-air pen and wash on paper

Grain Elevators

Under Alberta Skies

At one time the Alberta landscape was universally dotted with Grain Elevators pointing at the sky overhead. To a traveler, a distant grouping of these structures appeared to be breaking the horizon or could be hugely intimidating when getting up close. Although the prairie cloud formations remain overhead, the familiar clusters of colourful and variegated forms provided by grain elevators are becoming a distant memory to those who toiled among these structures. Only a few lonely sentinels can still be found here and there when travelling through rural Alberta.

They deserve to be recorded and remembered. The shapes formed by the combination of the elevator, the annex and various lean-too buildings, particularly when arranged in a colorful array along a railway line, are the epitome of vernacular prairie architecture. To me, these structures are begging to be painted against the huge skylines that are typical for the western Canadian landscape.

Generally, I prefer to work on location in a traditional “plein air” fashion, using pen and ink on paper for a quick sketch and wash , or sometimes I like to indulge in a more detailed watercolour painting. However, when working in my studio, only my original collection of photographs of Southern Alberta originating from the 1970’s and 80’s remains as a resource to provide the inspiration for my growing collection of paintings depicting the grain elevators in their natural environment

Hopefully the paintings presented here will entice the viewer to pause and reminisce on the grain elevators and the people that worked the land under the prairie skies.

These paintings were produced with pen and ink and watercolour on quarter size (10″ x 14″) watercolour paper. Images were originally captured with a camera between 1978 and 1994

Fall 2014

In the fall of 2014, at the request of former residents of Ponoka, now residing in Qualicum Beach, a series of paintings was produced  depicting the Ponoka skyline with a row of grain elevators as they once existed. I gratefully acknowledge that these were based on photographs that were made available by the Town of Ponoka, as I did not have any pictures myself.

April 2016

All the paintings that were in our studio  during the fire of March 30, 2016 were destroyed, which included many of the pictures shown on this page, however, I still have about 1500 digital images of grain elevators in Alberta that can be used to make new paintings. The original photographs and slides are at the Museum in High River, Alberta.

January 2017

Around Christmas of 2016 we met some visitors from Alberta at a dinner party here in Nanaimo, who would like to have some grain elevator pictures from Didsbury.

Using my large collection of photographs, I went to work and produced several paintings on 11″×14″ format with pen and ink and watercolor on various types of w/c paper so that they could make a selection.

It was great fun to work on these again after such a long hiatus. Most of these structures have disappeared but are not forgotten by some people of my generation.



8 thoughts on “Grain Elevators

  1. So sad to read that a lot of the paintings were destroyed. Glad you have a record and can recreate them. Hope nothing else got destroyed and everyone is ok. We went to Victoria and Vancouver back in early May. We can’t wait to explore more of Canada’s wilderness. It’s quite challenging since we don’t drive. Amazing country and we can’t wait to see more.

  2. Yes, it is sad that most of these paintings were destroyed. Your skies are beautiful and the building glow with color.

  3. excellent work as always John. Your ability to capture what surrounds you astounds me!

  4. Do you have any of the Carstairs paintings for sale. I grew up there and now the skyline that was dominated by the elevators is gone. I have one pencil drawing I did in 1958 and that is my only connection to the past townscape.

  5. Beautiful paintings! What a fun idea too!

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