The Lost Art

17 Apr 2012

Losing a painting somewhere is never fun, but losing a good painting can drive one to temporary distraction. While teaching our plein air painting workshop in Rocky Mountain National Park last September, I was demonstrating the direct-painting method of painting outdoors. This method requires the painter to begin work without any preliminary monochromatic sketch, or much of any sketch at all. The subject was a mountain stream and the demonstration went well. In fact, I felt that this small study was complete enough to use as reference for a much larger piece. One of my students was interested in purchasing it, too.

Teaching our plein air painting workshop in Rocky Mountain National Park last September.
Teaching our plein air painting workshop in Rocky
Mountain National Park last September.
After the painting session was over, we packed up and I placed the painting against a tree with the rest of my gear. We broke for lunch, then loaded up our gear and headed for our afternoon painting location on the other side of the park. It wasn't until 4:30 that afternoon that I noticed that the morning study was missing from my wet box. We rushed back to the morning location and searched everywhere, but the painting was nowhere to be found. No one had seen it. There had been bears around that morning. Could a bear have smelled the paint and made off with it?! I had a sudden vision of a bear walking slowly down the trail with my painting stuck to its rear end.

The more I looked for the lost painting the larger the importance of it grew my mind. Such a loss! In that moment, this was no longer a simple study of a stream, but was indeed a stand-alone little masterpiece that I could never replace. Ann even called to report it to the park headquarters, just in case someone found it and turned it in. When the park service received the news of a lost painting, the silence on the other end of the phone was palpable. They were polite about it, but we got the impression that we might as well have reported a missing chandelier. In the end, I decided that the loss was a good thing and that someone might be enjoying my painting somewhere else.

This incident started us thinking that perhaps we should occasionally leave a painting to be discovered in a spot where we have painted. Recently, we were pleasantly surprised to discover that someone we know is already doing just that. West Fraser, whom we profiled on The Artist's Road, has been hiding paintings in outdoor locations for the last few years. He has elevated the process by setting up some rules for the finder of the art requesting that the finder "make a donation to a favorite charity, perhaps your local high school art program, artist organization, local museum or a talented artist in need."

The painting I lost during the workshop.
The painting I lost during the workshop.
West has publicized this scavenger hunt locally in Charleston, SC, where he lives, and will give clues to the location of the art, which he usually places in a tree somewhere near where he originally painted it. He has photos on his website of some of the paintings and of the folks who have found them, along with a description of the donations they have made. We think this is a terrific idea and applaud West for inventing a way to get people involved in supporting art and art education. What do you think?

--John & Ann

P.S. Visit us on The Artist's Road to see more in-depth articles and demonstrations. See you there!

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KatPaints wrote
on 18 Apr 2012 6:55 PM

Or you could post the painting on your website and ask people to send in photos of the location you actually painted it. If they find it, you will donate a certain percentage of the sale to a program of your choice. You could get high school students involved and even ask for them or other artists learning to go paint that area with a group of other interested students.

You could also get other artists involved in being an art sleuth. The artist could send clues and an image of the painting to a particular site that has been set up for this purpose. A percentage of the sales would go towards art scholarships for talented students from low income families, inner city arts programs, or non-profit art programs that are dedicated to supplementing school art programs.

Sorry, about your painting though. Was it painted in walking distance to a parking lot? If not,  I have one guess of where it is of the students has it.

By the way, I am in need of a new umbrella. My gorilla umbrella just isn't doing it. I wish the clamp would pivot. Also, I was thinking of getting a white umbrella since the silver/black umbrella seems to be cutting out too much light. Any suggestions for a vented white umbrella?

Yabut818 wrote
on 21 Apr 2012 6:07 PM

This reminds me of latest project at  They will send the participants one colour and a word of inspiration and we are to produce a piece of art and leave it in a public place. We have to take a picture of it where we left it and send that in to them. I'm really looking forward to this kind of fun.