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Monday, December 27, 2010

Grain elevators

When traveling through many small towns in America you will invariably encounter a scene of interconnected cylindrical towers with connecting buildings known as grain elevators.

"Heartland Neighbors" - 24"x 32" - Oil - (Girard, KS)

From the time I first decided to pursue fine art in 1982, my love of rural America has been expressed through my work...and grain silos and elevators have made their appearance many times. One of the longest elevators in the world, almost half a mile long with an 18.3 million bushel capacity, is located in Hutchison, KS. It has been the subject of several paintings.

"Meeting of the Lines" - 20"x 20" - Oil - (Atchison, KS)

Grain elevators continue to fascinate me. From a distance they stand as huge, proud, silent monuments dwarfing everything else in town. As one approaches, they become a noisy beehive of continuous activity.

"Early Morning" - 9"x 12" - Oil - (Hutchison, KS)

The first designs in the U.S. for grain elevators came from the imagination of Joseph Dart. It was 1840 in Buffalo, NY that elevators first made their appearance. Designed as a place to store all types of grain until sold and shipped, the design provides a stable environment with easy storage and retrieval of the desired product.
Elevate is key to any grain elevator operation. Grain is brought to the site by truck and dumped into a pit where it is scooped up using a bucket elevator system. The grain is elevated to the top of the silos to a distributor. From there it falls through spouts or is sent along conveyors where it is dropped into one of a number of silos.

"Boyhood Dreams" - 30"x 40" - Oil - (Greenville, TX)

The silos, containing wheat, maize, corn, milo and many other types of grain, are emptied by gravity, sweep augers and conveyors. As grain is removed from the silos, it is conveyed, blended and weighed into trucks, railroad cars or barges for shipment to grain wholesalers, exporters, flour mills, breweries, etc.

"Morning in Atchison" - 20"x 20" - Oil - (Atchison, KS)

Many grain elevators are coop owned. They are almost always located along railroad lines and were conveniently constructed about 10 miles apart so local farmers could bring in their grain, unload it and hopefully sell it for a good price. Grain elevators became necessary because the transport system is not always able to handle the demands at harvest time due to weather conditions or bumper crops.

"Last of the Rain" - 40"x 60" - Oil - (Carthage, MO)

Elevators occasionally experience serious explosions. Fine powders from all the grain passing through the facility can accumulate and mix with oxygen in the air. A spark could spread from the floating grain creating a chain reaction that could possibly destroy the entire structure.
To prevent this catastrophe, elevators have rigorous rules against smoking or any other open flame. Many elevators have various devices installed to maximize ventilation in order to prevent mechanisms from overheating.


Sunday, December 19, 2010


I love the silence after a freshly fallen snow, that all enveloping quiet that penetrates to the very soul. I am awed. I am humbled. I am speechless. I am silent. There are no other distractions... only communion with God.
"Silence" - 9"x 12" - Oil

"Silence is frightening because it strips us as nothing else does, throwing us upon the stark realities of our life."
-Dallas Willard-

Below are some extraordinary thoughts excerpted from: The Reading Room - water's edge

We have an infinite void in our hearts that we attempt to fill with noise, people, busyness, possessions, and other finite things. This is a major sickness in our culture.

We are addicted to noise. We need noise. We've got to have noise. Silence steals away the distractions of life which anesthetize us from the feeling that our lives are still empty. Noise helps us live on the banks of denial. Noise keeps us concentrated on something else...anything else.

Silence is the practice of quieting every voice, including our own inner and outer voices. Silence means being still so that we can hear the Voice that searches our hearts and minds. We must quiet our own hearts and mouths if we are to be able to listen to the voice of God.

Solitude and silence, combined with an engaged mind, are practices that can open our lives up to the grace of God. God says, "Be still, and know that I am God". In solitude and silence, and with a mind actively waiting on God, we will be enabled to view life as God reveals it to us. We will consider our actions and the motives behind them. We will consider the actions of others and allow God to season our response with compassion and forgiveness because we first recognize the compassion and forgiveness God has shown to us.

Blessings to each of you this Christmas.


Friday, December 10, 2010

Grain silos: Form following function

The Evening Descends - 12"x 30"

You've heard the term, "form follows function"? Well grain silos are a perfect illustration of this.

Twilight's Last Gleaming - 8"x 13"
I have been fascinated with these cylindrical icons for more years than I can remember. I'm not sure why. Maybe it's the close association they have with country life, folks living off the land and helping one another...a less confused life where one works hard, produces a product that benefits people, sells that product and provides for his family. Maybe I find silos appealing because I so much enjoyed visiting my grandparent's farm while growing up...or maybe it's nothing more than the fact it's a bold, beautiful, dramatic shape that contrasts nicely with the sky and landscape. Whatever the reason, there's definitely something special about them.

Hues of Autumn - 18"x 30"
There are many ways to store farm products in bulk. Storage structures come in all shapes and sizes and can be used to store all kinds of stuff, from wood chips to cement. One way to store product is just dig a pit, dump your stuff in and cover it with a tarp. But the structure that I find most fascinating is the grain silo, more specifically, the concrete tower silo. These things were invented by Franklin Hiram King (1848-1911). They were first made of wood but these were more prone to fires, rodent infiltration and moisture than the new and improved concrete ones. There are also steel silos but I do not find them visually appealing.

Late September - 30"x 30"
Farmers have always needed a way to store large amounts of grain, seed, and even silage. Now silage is a fodder. Fodder is stuff livestock eat. It is harvested while green and usually consists of grass, alfalfa, sorghum, oats or maize. It's loaded into a silo and left to ferment. Later it can be used as feed or as biofuel.
Now the idea is, whatever you put in the silo needs to stay dry.

The Way Home - 30"x 40"
So why use a cylinder? This is where the search for a better way to do things led to the cylindrical tower...a case of function determining form.
The tower design proved to be better than square or rectangular shapes for several reasons:
  • Takes up much less space
  • More economical to build
  • Requires fewer joints since there are no corners. Only joints are at the top and foundation
  • More airtight and therefore better protected from weather, rodents, etc.
  • Design and construction is much stronger in resisting tons and tons of vertical and horizontal pressure
  • Requires much less machinery to load and unload material
  • More efficient storage shape
Some of these silos are made of cast concrete while others are constructed with concrete staves. These staves are small precast concrete blocks with ridged grooves along each edge that help lock them together. The blocks are stacked vertically with a slight stagger. All the blocks are then bound together with steel hoops encircling the tower. Since outward pressure is greatest near the bottom of the silo, the bands are more closely spaced there, with fewer bands toward the top.
The beauty of this design is that the whole thing can be disassembled and moved to another site.

The Call of Dawn - 14"x 28"
Grain silos typically range in size from 10-90 feet in diameter and 30-275 feet tall.
Material is loaded into a silo from the top by means of a conveyor, bucket elevator, chute system or a combination of these. Except in the case of silage, the material is removed through an opening at the bottom of the silo. Weight of the material and gravity alone are all that's needed to complete the process.
String a few of these silos together and you have an elevator. That's for next time.


Sunday, December 5, 2010

Land of the Pilgrim's Pride

This will be the last posting in this series I've been doing celebrating the United States becoming an independent nation...under God.

In the 1990's I did a series of paintings based on the first verse of the song America. I did six paintings all together. This is the fifth in the series. I thought it a good idea to share with you what really made our country great. Our country is in turmoil right now. We have lost our way but I'm convinced there is hope for us if we return to the God of the Bible.

Let me share with you the motivation behind this painting.

Little do we know, much of the time, what a significant impact our seemingly mundane words and actions have upon people, even nations. The Pilgrims were such a people. Little did they know that their decision to resist the state church of England under King James I in the early 1600's, by boldly standing for what they believed, would rock the kingdom of darkness and lay the foundation for a new nation and system of government in the new world.

As a small group of people living in the village of Scrooby, north of Nottinghamshire in England, they believed in: a) freedom of individual conscience; b) freedom of worship; c) the right to communicate with God directly; d) simplicity of religious life; e) purity of doctrine and practice; and f) strict adherence to Biblical principles.

As a result of these beliefs they separated themselves from the established state church, its rituals, doctrine and bishops. Therefore they became known as Separatists, Brownists (after Rev. Robert Browne, a prominent separatist in the 1580's), Puritans and nonconformists, among other things.

Even though it was King James who acceded to the Puritans request for a new translation of the Bible, known today as the King James Bible, the Puritans were still not tolerated.

King James, believing he ruled by "divine right," proclaimed "I will have one doctrine and one discipline, one religion in substance and ceremony...I shall make them conform themselves, or I will harry them out of the land or else do worse. If any would not be quiet, and show his obedience, he were worthy to be hanged."

The virtually unheard of Forefathers Monument in Plymouth, MA., commemorates the landing of the Pilgrims in the new world 390 years ago on December 22, 1620. It also honors what they believed. One of the figures surrounding the monument is entitled "Education," and suggests that the Pilgrims came to the new world for their posterity - for their children and their children's children.

The figure "Education," represented here by the lamp stand, shows a youthful person pointing to truth in a book of knowledge, showing that the fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge. On her head is a laurel wreath representing education as a crowning victory for youth who are able to use wisdom as they learn from others with more experience.

The grandfather with his granddaughter symbolizes the wisdom of old age and the energy of youth. He is reading to her from the famous "Pilgrim's Progress" by John Bunyan, teaching her of the things of life as illustrated in the incredible story of pilgrim.

The Bible on the sofa, our guide for victorious living, is a tribute to King James who authorized the first English translation of the Holy Scriptures.

The wilted flower expresses the sorrow felt over the decline of our society and of public education as God has been removed from our homes and schools. On the chest-of-drawers is a model of the "Mayflower" which carried the 102 pilgrims to America and on the wall is N.C.Wyeth's painting "The Mayflower Compact," a document many believe to be the very foundation of our United States Constitution.