In this occasional series, we talk to plein air artists about a piece of art that inspired them when they were young. Our first interview is with Robert Masla, a painter based in Mexico and Massachusetts, who was raised in Westchester County in New York.

Lead Image: “Indians at a Campfire,” by William Edward Norton, watercolor or ink wash on paper

Masla recalled a piece by William Edward Norton (1843-1916). “It was on my wall my whole life, or since I can remember, anyway,” says Masla. “As soon as I was consciously aware of paintings on a wall, it was up there.”

Norton was better known for his marine paintings, but he also painted genre scenes and landscapes. Masla’s mother had a few pieces by the artist. “She bought them from his daughter, who was elderly,” Masla recalls. “She was cleaning out the house and sold them for next to nothing.”

Norton’s “Indians at a Campfire” is still in Masla’s life; it hangs on a brick wall between his kitchen and living room, where everyone who goes between the rooms can see it.

“When I was a little boy I thought, wow, how cool, Indians around a campfire,” says Masla. “I started looking at it in a little more technical fashion when I started drawing and painting.

“He got a nice sense of sense of chiaroscuro with what I think is an ink wash. Anatomically, it’s not terribly accurate, but it feels like a lot of things done by artists of that era who were primarily landscape or marine painters. He wanted to make the figure look robust and strong. I admire his ability to handle the ink wash subtly and softly; I felt like he had a really nice touch. You see it in the gestures in the grass and the sfumato in the forest around him.”


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