Saturday, April 18, 2009

Roanoke Rapids

It's been awhile since I posted any recent work. This painting, entitled "Roanoke Rapids," was completed at the end of 2008. The imagery is a compilation of scenes I photographed during a visit to Roanoke Rapids, North Carolina in February 2008. My destination on that trip was the Roanoke Canal Museum and Trail, a newly-opened historic site that preserves elements of the canal that was constructed in the 19th century to divert river traffic around the falls along the Roanoke River.

I had visited Roanoke Rapids as a young boy living in Maryland during the 1960s, and had a vivid memory of the huge dam upriver from the falls. Much to my pleasure, the canal trail ended at the dam (although security implemented after 911 now prevents visitors from accessing the viewing tower of the dam, as I had done 40 years earlier). The trail itself was a peaceful walk that included a section of crumbling ramparts from the old canal. Unfortunately, the canal museum was closed on this day, so I could only walk around its grounds rather than see the displays.

The two strongest images I left with that day were the billowing smokestacks from the huge paper mill in Roanoke Rapids, and the blocks of aging mill houses with their cyclops-like second story windows. The neighborhood that encompasses these mill houses has fallen into disfavor, and the homes stand today in a variety of conditions; some are even empty and near ruins. I was fascinated with their uniformity and style, and took a series of pictures of them. Then, back in the studio I developed this composition and superimposed the paper mill stacks in the background. While it is strictly a view composed in my mind, I feel it accurately captures the mood of this once-thriving mill town.

"Roanoke Rapids." 20 x 30 inches, oil on stretched canvas. Completed in December 2008.

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