47 years on, Watercolor Gang is still painting strong

Freud, Hockney, Hirst and so on

47 years on, Watercolor Gang is still painting strong

Postby rekha2010 » Wed Dec 22, 2010 5:36 am

The high point of Hal Sims' military career was being part of the Berlin Airlift, says his daughter Suzanne Sims Baker.

The high point of his art career was being part of the Watercolor Gang, a group of plein air painters.

"He was so proud to be among these artists," says Baker, an interior designer and antiques dealer.

Sims belonged to the group for 33 years before he passed away in 2002. After Ivan McDougal and Kuo Yen Ng, two other members of the Watercolor Gang, died - in 2005 and 2007, respectively - Baker contacted the group "to see where everybody was," she says. "And we just thought, 'Let's have a show.' "

Past and Present, an exhibit on display at Antiques at Broadway, features work by Sims, McDougal and Ng along with Finis Collins, Clay McGaughy, E. Gordon West and Lee Ricks.

Stacked on the wall, the paintings document canyons carved from stone, sun-dappled missions rising out of the plains and quiet landscapes.

Started in 1964, the Watercolor Gang is still going strong with members ranging in age from 75 to 81. In September, Collins, McGaughy, West and Ricks had an exhibit at the Chisholm Trail Heritage Museum in Cuero, after the group's annual painting trip.

The group began after friends Collins, McGaughy and McDougal took a painting trip to Big Bend National Park.

"It just seemed like a good idea to continue," McGaughy says.

In each of the years that followed, the group - which numbered seven at its largest - took a weeklong trip, often accompanied by guest artists. Each trip was followed by a group show, which became an anticipated event at galleries such as the defunct Sol Del Rio Gallery in Alamo Heights.

"I think one of the things that was the big draw on their annual exhibits was that they all had painted the same thing, but they came back and had all these different perspectives," Baker says.

Each member has his own distinct style.

"Our techniques are just our own 'cause you can't help your own style," McGaughy says. "Otherwise we'd all paint like Norman Rockwell."

The group's ranks include five San Antonio Art League Artists of the Year, and McDougal, West and McGaughy have work in the McNay Art Museum's permanent collection. McDougal's widow, Gloria, contributed two of the paintings he was proudest of to the museum after his death.

"I don't mean it to be braggy, but I'm just proud that they won't be in a closet," she says. "His two favorite paintings will be in a museum for people to see."

Together, the group has amassed countless paintings, and even more memories from travels that have taken them across the country and beyond to Mexico and Europe. Collins, the group's de facto archivist, has kept a detailed record that chronicles trips to Yelapa, Mexico; Andalusia, Spain; Polperro, England, and Venice, Italy.

"We've been so lucky," Collins, 81, says. "If you can imagine where we've been over 47 years."

The group is considering a trip to Holland as its next excursion.

"Write it down, and we'll have to go," Mc-Gaughy says.
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