Friday, April 15, 2011


The railroad bridge across the Coosa River has been a landscape feature in Gadsden since the late 1800s when it was the only bridge. Vintage photos show pedestrians and horse and buggies using the bridge between scheduled trains. More recently citizens and city officials declared its rusty girders an eyesore and began looking for grants and contractors to paint the structure. But artists look with different eyes and many plein air painters at the 2009 and 2010 spring events hosted by the Gadsden Museum of Art made paintings of the bridge, rust and all.

At the 2010 event Dmitriy Proshkin used the location as the site for a workshop attended by aspiring plein air painters. His demonstration painting shows the thrust of orange girders against a blue sky, beautifully crafted stone supports, the wide Coosa, and steep river banks. I was lucky enough to buy this painting and it became the focal point of my dining room. Everyday I’m struck by the sensitive brushstrokes, color contrasts, and light effects—notice how the girder structure is lost and found against the bright sky, just the way the eye sees but most of us never notice.

Dmitriy brings an international touch to the Southeastern Plein Air Invitational because he was born and received his art training in Russia. He admires famous Impressionists like Monet, Pissaro, and Sisley and Russian Impressionists Shishkin, Savrosov, Vassilev, and Levitan. He explains that the Russian School of landscape artists seeks simplicity, to bring out the richness and poetic beauty of ordinary sights. I can see this approach in his painting of Gasdsden’s railroad bridge. As Dmitriy puts it: “I feel one of my most important tasks in painting landscapes is to express and bring out the true reflection of the mood of the moment.”

What will happen this year at the Southeastern Plein Air Invitational? What surprising subjects will artist choose? Will some once again choose the railroad bridge? Since last year the rust has been scraped off the bridge and it is now pristine silver. Will artists still find it appealing as a subject? I’m so thrilled to have a painting of the bridge as it was during my lifetime and will not be again. A good reason to buy a painting is that it captures a moment in time that will never return—a memory in paint.

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