– Bob Bahr reporting, Editor PleinAir Today –

Do you feel like you are capturing a disappearing world when you paint en plein air? Craig Thomas does, and for good reason.

Lead Image: “Barn at Sunset, Augusta, MO,” by Craig Thomas, 2016, acrylic, 16 x 24 in.

Thomas was with some painters at the Augusta Plein Air Art Festival last month in Missouri when they saw some ominous clouds. “We had excellent weather this year for the event, but one day it was pretty bad,” Thomas remembers. “Nobody reported any funnel clouds, but the storm front was ominous. The sky was cerulean green and purple on top. We wanted to paint it, but it was moving too fast,” he says with a chuckle.

Earlier, Thomas had painted an old barn built before the Civil War, located in the bottoms of the Missouri River. When he went back to the spot the day after the surreal sky, the barn was down. “It was done,” Thomas says simply. “I got a Best of Show from a painting of that same barn in 2013. I’ve painted it four or five times. You can find artifacts around there. It’s a very serene place —the bottoms with bluffs on each side, creating great sunsets.”

“Barn Down at Augusta, MO,” by Craig Thomas, 2016, acrylic, 8 x 10 in.
“Barn Down at Augusta, MO,” by Craig Thomas, 2016, acrylic, 8 x 10 in.
“Kesler’s Barn,” by Craig Thomas, 2013, acrylic, 10 x 18 in. Best in Show at the 2013 Augusta Plein Air Art Festival
“Kesler’s Barn,” by Craig Thomas, 2013, acrylic, 10 x 18 in. Best in Show at the 2013 Augusta Plein Air Art Festival

Now there’s nothing but rubble. The barn won’t be restored, even though the careful owners of the land appreciated its historical significance. “It’s a sad thing about those old barns, but economically it doesn’t make sense to rebuild it,” says Thomas. Being an artist, Thomas saw beauty even in the wreckage. “It’s very interesting to look at it now,” he says. “There are some very cool curves and warps to it. The cupola on top is canted at a funky angle, so I knew I would paint that. But in terms of marketing, a painting of a destroyed barn is not as marketable as one of a standing barn!”

He goes on, “There’s definitely a sense that we are capturing a changing world. Plein air painters are interacting with what they see. You have to be present, whether you paint something very realistically or your impression of it. You are capturing that moment — that’s what it’s all about. You’re painting a moment in the history of the earth, at that time, at that location.”

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