Texas has 254 counties, and in many county seats the courthouse is the most striking building in town. Michael Holter has noticed this, and he’s acting on it.
“Just Off the Square,” by Michael Holter, watercolor. Ellis County Courthouse, Waxahachie, Texas
“I have always had a love of architecture, and I thought for a while that I was going to be an architect,” says Holter. “When you travel through these towns you are struck by the courthouses. They are usually impressive structures, often situated on the town square. Sometimes they serve as the center of small communities.”
“Granbury Beacon,” by Michael Holter, watercolor. Hood County Courthouse, Granbury, Texas
Holter is starting on a project to paint all 254 courthouses. He has a ways to go—he has only depicted six so far. “Each one is a little different,” says Holter. “There are some places where the courthouse is just a flat-roofed, two-story building, but there are quite a few others that are like grand halls, with Romanesque architecture. Sometimes the town might also have church steeples or industrial structures with some height, but the courthouse is an interesting shape on the horizon as you come up on the town.”
“Llano Court,” by Michael Holter, watercolor, 5 ½ x 14 in. Llano County Courthouse, Llano, Texas
In some parts of Texas, the counties average about 900 square miles, so every 30 miles or so, a traveler can come upon another courthouse. Holter finds them interesting not just for their shape, but for what they represent. “It’s interesting that, in this land of democracy, they chose to build the centers of the government as the dominating facet of their communities. The courthouses are the tallest things in some of these towns, so it’s kind of a tribute to democracy.”
“Auction on the Courthouse Steps,” by Michael Holter, watercolor, 10 x 7 in. Ellis County Courthouse, Waxahachie, Texas. Plein air
The artist isn’t so much interested in the materials used in the construction of the pieces. This tends to vary from marble to the red or yellow stone indigenous to the area. Roofing material varies as well, with some courthouses utilizing slate and others boasting a mission look, for example. The size, design, and materials do often suggest the level of prosperity the town has enjoyed.
“The Denton Taj,” by Michael Holter, watercolor, 14 x 10 in. Denton City, Texas
Another aspect of courthouses interests Holter. “Courthouses have all this life that goes on in and around them,” he says. “Last year at the plein air event in Waxahachie I painted the Ellis County courthouse several times, and one day it was interesting—it was the first Tuesday of the month, and that means a foreclosure auction on the courthouse steps. Painting that sort of thing is fun, and you have a story to go along with the building and the painting.”
“Ft. Worth Sunday,” by Michael Holter, watercolor, 20 x 14 in. Tarant County Courthouse, Ft. Worth, Texas
Holter doesn’t have definite plans for the watercolor paintings produced by his venture, although he hopes for an exhibition. He notes that an exhaustive book on Texas’ courthouses is already published—and has served as a valuable resource for him in his project. “It would be fun to do a show,” says Holter. “I probably will start with that.”