– Bob Bahr reporting, Editor PleinAir Today –
In the shadow of the buildings of St. Paul, Minnesota, is a 636-acre park that was once an urban ruin. Joshua Cunningham says it is an ideal place for a plein air painter. Why?
Lead Image: “Cottonwoods and Hopper Cars,” by Joshua Cunningham, oil, 16 x 20 in. Private collection
“It has bridges, roads, rails,” says Cunningham. “There’s the Mississippi River, and bluffs, and several trestles that are used as landmarks by people in St. Paul. It’s like a wildlife refuge now, but it once was a whole town.”
That town was called Lilydale, and it was on a floodplain. It moved to the top of the bluffs long ago to escape the occasional waters, and only the useful infrastructure was spared. Now it is a place for concerts and picnics, biking and walking. Pickerel Lake attracts great blue herons, and barge traffic reminds visitors of the river’s past importance to commerce. “All this variety, and all of this open space — they are challenges and blessings for your paintings,” says Cunningham. “This is a place where the paintings really can breathe and open up.”
Cunningham readily admits that one of Lilydale’s biggest appeals for him is proximity. “It’s very close to where I live,” he says. “If I have just a couple of hours as a window, I can just go down there and paint. It’s like having a gym that’s close — you can always work out. It’s close enough that if I forget something I can go back home and get it easily. And with something this close and familiar, you really dig into the place and see all that it has. The more you paint, the more it stirs your curiosity, and you dig even deeper.”
He adds, “The only thing the place is missing is a restroom.”