- Clockwise from top left: ”Edna’s Barn,” Barbara Mauldin; ”Refreshing,” Phil Bob Borman; ”Misty Blue,” Chuck Mauldin; ”Bloomtime,” Charlotte Curry.
When spring arrives in the Texas Hill Country, so do the bluebonnets. Wildflowers carpet the landscape with color.
Settled by German pioneers in the 1840s, the Hill Country and its central town, Fredericksburg, are known for art galleries, wineries, historic charm and scenic vistas. Many artists make their home in the area. They find much to inspire them year round. But spring works a special magic, beckoning them to move outdoors and paint en plein air.
Chuck and Barbara Mauldin
Plein air painting is a family affair for Chuck and Barbara Mauldin. When a scene inspires them, they set up easels side by side.
“We really enjoy painting from life,” says Chuck, “and for landscape painters, that means you’ve got to get out and paint outdoors.”
Despite their closeness, they have their own artistic visions. “Chuck is more strictly realistic,” Barbara explains. “I kind of juice the color a little bit. Some people say my paintings are happy looking because I tend to create more color than is truly there.”
Artists from childhood, they met at the University of Texas. For 28 years they lived in Baton Rouge, where Chuck was a research chemist for Exxon. He painted on the side, while Barbara taught art in their children’s school.
They had always planned to return to Texas. Six years ago they moved to Fredericksburg. “Most people consider this the prettiest part of the state,” Chuck notes.
“I like the hills and the terrain,” Barbara adds. “There’s a lot of cultural and historical significance to this area. And the wildflowers in spring are so beautiful.”
Phil Bob Borman
The sky is no limit for Phil Bob Borman. In his landscapes the land is almost an afterthought, an anchor for the clouds that soar and swirl across the canvas. The drama in the skies “just captures my heart,” he says.
Borman knew in his early teens that he wanted to be an artist. He began as a sculptor, supporting himself by working as a cowboy on West Texas ranches. In 1993 he was called to the ministry and set art aside. “Then one day the Lord said, ‘Start painting’ and I said, ‘Okay.’ ”He now lives outside Kerrville with his family and paints full time.
Borman divides his time between the outdoors and his studio. “I desperately need plein air to remember all of the colors and get the feeling,” he maintains. “A photograph can only record so much.”
For Borman, art is a language, a way to communicate. “The content of the story is simply where you start,” he says, “It’s how you tell the story that brings the smile, creates the mood, and evokes the emotions.”
Charlotte Curry started out as a city girl, growing up in San Antonio and then living in Houston. But she found it hard to be a landscape artist in a sprawling urban area. “To find the scenes I wanted to paint, I had to keep driving farther and farther,” she explains.
Curry decided to move to a more rural place, her mother’s hometown of Kerrville. At the nearby Cowboy Artists of America Museum (now the Museum of Western Art), she took workshops with top artists. More important, she was inspired by her surroundings.
She enjoys working on location, though she admits it has its challenges. “Every bug in the country loves a wet painting,” she says with a laugh. Once while painting on a beach she wedged her easel deep in the sand and weighted it with a heavy box. The precautions didn’t help. “Along came a gust of wind, and in an instant, it was face down in the sand.”
The reward is catching the feeling of nature on canvas. “The sense of the wild, the uninhabited,” she says, “That’s what I like in my paintings.”
Donald Darst’s friends joke that he works on the dark side. The colors in his paintings are subtle, the tones deep.
His works often capture a moment when change seems imminent—night shifting to day, winter rolling into spring, a storm about to blow in. A viewer can almost smell the rain and feel the stir of a breeze.
“I like to create mood,” he says. “That’s it for me, the feelings.”
Darst was working in the technology field when a consulting job brought him to Central Texas. Charmed by the hills, creeks and historic stone cottages, he and his wife, Linda, began planning a permanent move. They live in the tiny town of Grey Forest, where he has served as mayor.
Don took up painting when Linda gave him the gift of a class with Kentucky artist Angie Campbell. His works have a freshness and a sense of place that invites readers to step into them. “I like people to be able to put themselves into a painting,” Darst says, “and have their feelings come out in what they see.”