The Big Icicle
image © Robert N. Morrissey + click to enlarge


The Big Icicle

18" x 24"

SOLD

Giclée print: $395 (unframed)

Please note: “The Big Icicle” comes from Masters' earliest and largest series of paintings. Depicted at various times of year this is the Missouri Pacific Railroad Section House, located at 301 Leffingwell in Kirkwood, Missouri. It was the home of Grant and Louisa Masters, Stan's grandparents. Grant left the back woods of Missouri at the end of the 19th century to work for Mo-Pac, as it was called, and worked his way up to section foreman, where his duties were to maintain the tracks and right of way. Mo-Pac owned the house, painted in their corporate yellow and brown. It was located less than a mile from the Kirkwood station and situated at the confluence of three sets of tracks, one of which passed within six feet of the porch, just visible in the foreground. A modest affair, it had two rooms, electricity, but no running water. Behind is a one room bunk house, intended as temporary lodging for itinerant laborers. It had neither electricity nor water. Between the buildings is the coal bin and water pump.

Grant and Louisa had 13 children, 6 of which survived to adulthood, the oldest of whom was John, Stan’s father. John, who by all accounts was a verbally abusive, deadbeat lay-about, married Marguerite Klamberg, the daughter of a local plasterer. They had four children, Stan being the eldest, and lived in the bunk house. As John drifted from job to job, the family constantly moved in and out, but this is where Stan spent his formative years. With the lack of water and electricity and the noise and chaos of more than 100 trains passing by each week, stories of hardship abound. There were times when the family was so destitute, dinner consisted of a single can of soup. Despite the privation, 50 years later Stan recalled 301 Leffingwell with great fondness:

“Nothing is all bad and one of the best memories of my young life is lying there at night with the pot-belly stove fire gradually dying down and I'm hypnotized to sleep by the dancing shadows on the ceiling getting slower and slower. And mom and dad are there and I'm warm and safe (but not really, even then the bedbugs were a very rude and painful awakening.)”

Upon his return to St. Louis in 1946, after service in the Army during WWII, Stan found that 301 Leffingwell had been demolished. In the late 1960's and the early 1970's, as he transitioned from commercial artist to fine artist, he became wistful for the old homestead. Corresponding with relatives, he gathered old photos of the house and eventually built a scale model, precise to the last detail, and painted not less than 20 views of it. Having spent several years on the project, Stan observed in a 1973 letter to an aunt, “While all this is a 'sentimental journey', my main reason for going to all this trouble is the inescapable fact that 'An artist paints best what he knows and loves best.' And I did find that my work was better doing these paintings than when I just painted a building with no emotional involvement.”

The notion of an artist “painting best what he knows and loves best” animates all of Stan's work. Each watercolor, regardless of subject matter, conveys great affection, painted with the authenticity of someone who was there. St. Louis often suffers from brutal winters, but “The Big Icicle” depicts 301 Leffingwell bathed in bright, warming sunlight. The wisps of smoke rising from the three chimneys suggest warm, cozy interiors and the falling snow adds cheeriness to the modest homestead, while the tracks remind us of the difficult, often harsh circumstances.

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