A Giant in the Field

Mammoth Plein Air Easel

Plein air painting: Giant Easel
Giant reproduction of van Gogh painting in wood and steel by Cameron Cross in Goodland, Kansas.

Another sunflower season has come and gone and this one was amazing. Our neighbor, Farmer Ted, grows about sixty acres of sunflowers for a birdseed crop every year. The sunflower is the official symbol of the state of Kansas. Western Kansas has enormous fields of them. Around here, though, they are not common as a crop.

Plein air easels at the ready! John and Ann’s oil painting classroom for the day with a view of the sprawling fields of sunflowers.

We have painted them for nearly a decade, often quite alone. Over the years, there has been increasing television and social media coverage of Ted’s fields. This year it was estimated around twenty thousand cars showed up over one weekend to see them! This intense public interest closed roads and highway exits near us. Ted’s sunflower fields are exceptionally beautiful because they roll up and over hills lined by trees—looking very much like sunflower fields in Provence, France. We took our plein air easels and our oil painting class to paint for a day in a secluded corner. Getting back out again later against the flood of cars took some time.

Plein air easel: Another Cross painting in Canada.
Another Cross painting in Canada.

Recently, when driving across Kansas from teaching a workshop in Wyoming, we approached the sunflower fields near the town of Goodland. We decided to pull off the highway in what is known as “The Sunflower Capital of Kansas.” In 2000, Goodland hired an artist to create a giant van Gogh sunflower painting on a a giant plein air easel. The Canadian artist, Cameron Cross, was commissioned to create the enormous construction that would attract attention to the town from nearby Interstate 70. Mr. Cross has been building these giant easels and van Gogh paintings for some years. His goal is to recreate all seven of van Gogh’s sunflower themes, placed in various locations around the world. The Goodland project is number three. Van Gogh’s Three Sunflowers in a Vase reproduction measures seven meters by ten meters (approximately twenty-three by thirty-three feet). It is mounted on a steel easel that is eighty-two feet tall. As you might imagine, this is one of the tallest objects around in a landscape renowned for its flatness. It is visible for miles.

We enjoyed stopping for a few minutes to stretch and look at the sculpture, which is impressively large up close. It was with mixed and conflicting feelings that we appraised it. On one hand, we suppose that this appropriation of van Gogh’s work might have some educational benefit. It does draw attention to his art in an odd way. And, it does affirm that it is acceptable for a little western town to use public funds to support a large art project that can return benefits to the town through public exposure and goodwill.

But, on the other hand, we’re not so sure van Gogh would have put his stamp of approval on it.

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John Hulsey and Ann Trusty

About John Hulsey and Ann Trusty

John Hulsey and his wife, Ann Trusty created the website, The Artist's Road - Painting the World's Beautiful Places.  The Artist's Road inspires with practical art tips and painting techniques for the traveling artist, video painting tutorials and demonstrations, workshop resources, artist profiles and interviews and remarkable painting locations.  The Artist's Road is an artist community for oil, watercolor and pastel artists.  Articles cover intriguing art travel experiences artists have had while painting the world's beautiful places. "I believe I must speak through my art, for the preservation of Nature and the natural landscape from which I take my inspiration and living." John Hulsey is an accomplished artist, author and teacher who has been working professionally for over thirty years. In addition to producing new work for exhibition and teaching workshops, Mr. Hulsey continues to write educational articles about painting for national art magazines, including Watercolor magazine and American Artist Magazine. He has been selected as a "Master Painter of the United States" by International Artist Magazine where his work was previously chosen to be included in the top ten of their international landscape painting competition. He was awarded residencies at Yosemite, Glacier and Rocky Mountain National Parks. "I strive in my art to celebrate the mysteries of Nature - the fleeting light on the landscape, the unimaginable diversity of creatures, the beauty of each leaf and flower." Ann Trusty  is an accomplished third generation artist whose work embodies the natural world and is created through direct observation and translation of her subjects into her paintings. She has found inspiration in the dancing light across the water of the Hudson River (where she had a studio for ten years), as well as the big sky and waving tall grasses of the open plains of the Midwest (her current home). Her work has been exhibited throughout the United States, France and Turkey in both museum and gallery exhibitions, and has been reviewed favorably by the New York Times.