Joel R. Edwards was chosen by the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department as one of 30 Texas artists to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the Texas State Parks system. Each artist was asked to represent two parks in their unique style by creating works of art that would capture the essence of each location. Joel was assigned two important parks in the history of Texas: Fanthorp Inn State Historic Site outside Navasota and Monument Hill and Kreische Brewery State Historical Parks near La Grange.
The resulting artwork was collected in a book, The Art of Texas State Parks: A Centennial Celebration, 1923-2023, published by Texas A&M University Press, that pictures five of Joel’s original creations. Beginning in 2023, many of the works, including a watercolor by Joel, will tour the state of Texas beginning at The Bullock Museum in Austin, Texas. In the summer of 2022, Foltz Gallery in Houston, Texas held an exhibition and sale of the artworks that benefitted the Texas State Parks system in which a large drawing by Joel was admitted.
Below are a collection of Joel's artworks and thoughts regarding this project.
Monument Hill State Historic Site/Kriesche Brewery
I first visited Monument Hill in the budding Texas spring, which must be the most opportune time to see the park. Explosions of life and color, set in a very well maintained environment, would bring ready compositions to any artist’s eye.
After learning some of the history of the place while visiting the small museum at the entrance, the grounds invite you to explore deeper, and they do not disappoint. The history of the monument itself and those who are buried there is fascinating and would serve well as a subject, but what caught my attention first was the old Kreische family home.
Once the dwelling of a lively family, the structure—the rocks and wood of the house itself—seem to tell of a time, long ago, when children played in the grass and breakfasts were enjoyed around a family table. Echos of laughter and conversations that made the house a home. The cavernous opening that was once the door to the home now sits hollow, the upper story window stares blankly. Curiously, there are three lighted candles shining from the dark window upstairs.
Down the hill and behind the house sits a scene that somehow felt different in its richly hued tapestry. It seems to me the vibrant history of Texas is exemplified in the iconic barn overshadowed by reaching oak trees. Past the brewery is a stretch of wooded land, preserved from the outside rush of time, that hints at the many stories that played out here long ago.
Reflecting on these impressions later in the studio, I used a number of reference photographs that I took while visiting the area to complete the artworks.
In comparing the Kreische dwelling and the farm scene, I felt that the subtle gray tones of charcoal and pencil were best suited to convey that hauntingly beautiful sense of times past; a reverent, almost holy feeling of the family home, while the more lively and vivid sense of nostalgia of the farm, seemed to match well with the watercolor medium and its more traditional composition. The drawing of the Kreische house is heavy on the left and rather empty on the opposite side, and while the black opening of the door is in the center of the paper, the path is skewed to the side almost as if to ward off entrance. The watercolor’s earth tones reflect the life that is still present in these uninhabited structures—the milkweed and bluebonnet, the bee and butterfly, the lichen and fungus.
The thirty foot tall monument of shell, stone and concrete stands silent and imposing. Its immovable bearing is only slightly relieved by the remote horizon, softened by distance, glimpsed through the solemn oaks standing vigil around the memorial. The bluff serves as the boundary between two distinct Texas environments, the Upland Post Oak Woodlands and the Fayette Prairie, while the Colorado River brings species that are normally found only in the Hill Country. The composition of the painting is unconventional, with the watercolor balanced by graphite, a unique blend of mediums that reflect the contrasts of this park's blend of Texas history and landscape.
Fanthorp Inn State Historic Site
I was excited to discover the two parks that were assigned to me featured architecture as the focus of the site because of the satisfaction I find in precise rendering of the elements of the structure that give it its own unique character. When confronted with these historic buildings one cannot help but feel the nostalgia of times past and the dramas that would have been so important to the participants.
Fanthorp Inn is a prime example of this. Built in 1834 by its namesake Henry Fanthorp, many guests stayed at this family home, including Sam Houston. Walking through the rooms filled with items of the past, one is immersed in what life was like at a Texas stagecoach stop during the 19th century.
The small vignettes that presented themselves throughout the building sat in silent stillness and yet full of vitality.
Sunlight streaming through windows, a desk waiting for business, hat and jacket hung expectantly.
The barrels in the pantry with its walls painted black to simulate a cave in hopes of a cooler temperature during the hot Texas summers.
A gathering place for guests with cards and dominoes still left on the table…
I have long been interested in the idea that painting and drawing have the ability to convey not only the physical characteristics of the subject but also more than that, something that is unseen but still exists; the spirit of a place.
These artworks are a response to the spirit of the people that worked to build these homes and farms, that once lived and visited here, that played their part as time moves on.
This is the spirit of Texas.
Caprock Canyons State Park
As we were permitted to include an artwork of a state park of our choosing, I also submitted the drawing below. The first time I visited Caprock Canyons was a primitive backpacking trip. The feeling of remote, primeval wilderness was so strong that it has been a subject of many drawings and one of my favorite places to visit.
The colors in the canyons are spectacular, but to me, the arrangement of darks and lights in this drawing convey so much of the atmosphere of the park. The shadow of the sun revealing the rugged and almost unforgiving nature of the rock contrasts with the soft grasses blowing in the breeze. Following the path stretched before us, a sense of the unknown wanting to be explored, beckons us onward, to discover what is around the next bend.
The Art of Texas State Parks
A Centennial Celebration, 1923–2023
Joel's artwork will be included in this book published by TEXAS A&M UNIVERSITY PRESS.
"The Art of Texas State Parks offers readers increased awareness of Texas parklands and heightens their popular appeal through the elegant and inspired works of some of Texas’ finest contemporary artists."
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