– Bob Bahr reporting, Editor PleinAir Today –
When R.L. Weber chose a neon-lit bar to paint for a nocturne, he didn’t realize it would blossom into a memorable night and reveal a lovable slice of Wisconsin life.
Lead Image: “Just Shut ’Em Off When You’re Done,” by R.L. Weber, 2016, oil on hand-cut birch panel, 14 x 18 in.
Weber wanted a nocturne because he was participating in the Plein Air Cedarburg event in June. He had noticed a bar on the outskirts of town that would be a good subject. But before he started painting, he had to follow protocol.
“It’s customary — well, mandatory — to stop in for ‘one’ to establish a rapport with the bar owner just in case there’s a need to use the facilities later on,” says Weber. “I had heard he made the best home-made gimlet from my host of the event, so when in Rome … Let me tell you! He mashed limes in a glass with a couple of sugar cubes, added a dash of orange liqueur, some top-shelf vodka, and some other ingredients I can’t remember and then proceeded to stir it slowly in front of me for at least five minutes whilst we chatted. My mouth was watering the whole time we talked, but when I finally tasted it, it was one of the most unique and best gimlets I ever consumed.
“During the conversation I asked him why his outside bar lights weren’t on since, even though I was parked in front of the bar, I didn’t even know that it was open. ‘Oh!’ he says and reaches behind me and turns a couple of switches on to illuminate all of the outside signs. (Now, that’s what I came to paint!) I asked him, since it was a Monday night, what time he was going to close down, and he said in about an hour or so. Since it typically takes me about three hours to complete a nocturne painting, I said that was too bad because my subject would go dark halfway through my painting. ‘Well,’ he said with his half-buzzed Wisconsin accent, ‘I can just leave ’em on for ya and leave the side door open for you to come in and turn ’em off when you’re done painting.’ I was a little blown away by his old school sense of trust to a complete stranger.”
Weber continues, “I finished my cocktail and went out into the darkness to attempt a painting. I watched the four or five patrons eventually filter out and go home to bed, was startled by deer running down the railroad tracks that I had to my back, and the coons skittering across the street to my left. There were no thugs that approached me, and not even one squad car did a drive-by while I painted. When I finally finished painting about 3:30 a.m., I packed up, walked in the side door that was promised open, walked across the bar with all of the fancy liqueurs and expensive wines, and silenced all of the riotous bar lights that illuminated the outside with the flick of a couple of switches. I closed the door and walked back to my car thinking that I love Wisconsin and the people who live in this fine state!”