Ranchos: The Oak Group Paints the Santa Barbara Countryside
developing along with the wonderful camaraderie of working together on a project.
Most of our days in the field started with an early morning wake-up call and the packing of lunches, hats, jackets, and cameras, as well as paints, easels, and canvasses. Each day's trip was to a new ranch and was usually a place the artists had never been before. It was with great anticipation that we set out, often just as the sun was rising, to find the perfect scene.
Each day we spent painting was special. I remember Meredith Abbott at work early on a cold winter morning at Rancho Los Alamos de Santa Elena, in the Los Alamos Valley, wrapped in a wool scarf, hat, down jacket, and gloves; Bill Dewey slipping and dislocating his finger on the wet, rocky cliffs above the ocean near Purisima Point at what once had been the Jesus Maria Rancho and is now part of Vandenberg Air Force Base; Marcia Burtt and I seeking shelter in the old red barn at Vail and Vickers Ranch on Santa Rosa Island to escape the gusting wind; Glenna Hartmann standing in the creek, working diligently with her pastels to paint Nojoqui Falls on the former Nojoqui Rancho, Karen Foster sitting and sketching with her shirt tied on top of her head for shade at Rancho La Paloma; Arturo Tello riding on the rope swing in the enormous grove of eucalyptus at San Julian, Phoebe Brunner and Rick Schloss watching the moon rise on a long summer's evening at La Laguna.
We had a wonderful day at the Sudden Ranch, now Vandenberg Air Force Base property, with Michael Drury, Hank Pitcher, John Iwerks, John Comer, Bjorn Rye, and Bill Dewey. We explored old corrals and abandoned buildings, spotted whales spouting offshore from the high bluffs, and loved seeing the freight trains moving along the tracks through the tall, golden grassy fields. We sat on a hill top and watched a herd of cattle being moved from one pasture to another by two horsemen and their obedient, trained dogs. It seemed as though we'd gone back in time a hundred years with only cattle, cowboys, dogs, and the unchanged landscape around us. Later, a cold fogbank blew in over us obscuring the hills, but leaving a strip of golden evening light around the Point Conception lighthouse.
The farthest ranches we had to paint, aside from those
on Santa Cruz and Santa Rosa Islands, were in the Cuyama Valley. On our
visit to the Russell Ranch, it was close to a hundred degrees when we arrived.
Hub Russell cordially gave us a tour and history of the ranch and told us
to paint, photograph, and camp for the night anywhere we wanted. It was
haunting to see the magnificent old cottonwood trees, some dead and others
dying, standing in the Cuyama River bed. Over the years, cattle grazing
had given way to farming, which had lowered the water table,
From top to bottom: Ray Strong, Santa Ynez River, 18 x 36 inches, oil on canvas, collection of the artist; Joellyn Duesberry, Ranch Yard in California, 36 x 30 inches, oil on linen, collection of Mr. and Mrs. Brink Thorne; Marcia Burtt, The Tack Room, Santa Rosa Island, 30 x 30 inches, acrylic, collection of Margaret Vail Wolley; Arturo Tello, All Paths Lead to Water, 18 x 24 inches, oil on canvas, collection of Margaret Vail Wolley.
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