The Accidental Environmentalist

From April 2020, for a year, I posted on Facebook a painting each day as a brief diversion from the lockdowns and other bad news this year. Neglecting my weblog, I’ll post in the coming days some of my better posts. Some of these paintings are still available.

Thunderbird Cove, 8×10, oil on panel, plein air

Yesterday [sic] I told two stories, one of a place and person, the other of my painting of it. Today I’ll also tell two stories, of the same place and person, but a different painting.

Yesterday my story of George Whittle Jr was not very complimentary, but that is just part of it. Whittell’s life was not all tawdry intrigue, ceaseless orgies and torrid love affairs. His enormous assets allowed him to purchase most of the Nevada side of Lake Tahoe where he built the Thunderbird Lodge in the 1930s. He resisted a formal education, traveling instead with the Barnum and Bailey Circus where he developed a lifelong love for wild animals. Whittell was made a Knight of the Order of Leopold by the King of Belgium for his distinguished service as an ambulance driver in World War I.

Increasingly reclusive, Whittell refused to develop his Lake Tahoe holdings. He donated land to the University of Nevada and Zephyr Cove, where a high school bears his name. When George Whittell died he left a legacy of pristine shoreline along with a large share of his fortune to the National Audubon Society, Defenders of Wildlife and the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals.

Much of the east shore of Lake Tahoe is still undeveloped and now enjoyed in it’s original natural condition because of George.

I hiked down that steep east shore embankment to paint this plein air. Although I thought there was a trail, I ended up scrambling over logs, rocks, and brush to reach the shoreline. Just around the corner of the painting is Thunderbird Lodge, but not visible here. If you look at yesterday’s painting, this is from the shore along the peninsula. I originally didn’t think it was that great a painting, as it was mainly meant to capture the colors and values. When I took it to the local gallery, they thought it was wonderful. I now think it is one of my best and most accurate captures of the colors of the Lake Tahoe shoreline, and used it as the title page in my book “Plein Tahoe”.

You can read more about George Whittell here– https://tahoequarterly.com/best-of-tahoe-2016/george-whittell-jr-the-accidental-conservationist

Thunderbird Overlook

From April 2020, for a year, I posted on Facebook a painting each day as a brief diversion from the lockdowns and other bad news this year. Neglecting my weblog, I’ll post in the coming days some of my better posts. Some of these paintings are still available.

“Thunderbird Overlook”, 12×16, oil on panel, plein air

“When men stop boozing, womanizing and gambling, the bloom is off the rose.”

George Whittell Jr.

My have times changed! A little backstory….

The first art gallery that accepted my work after going full time as an artist was in Tahoe City. They have since closed down, but in the 2000’s sold a lot of my work. I used to visit Lake Tahoe every few months, do new paintings, and drop off both plein air and studio works. This is one of the plein air pieces I did on those trips.

This painting is an overlook of Thunderbird Lodge, which I have written about before in these posts. Built in 1939, it was designed to blend harmoniously with its surroundings. But, the guy who built it might have been more interesting. George Whittell Jr. was born in San Francisco in 1881, an heir to one of San Francisco’s wealthiest families. His father was the founder of PG&E, the Northern California utility corporation, and Jr eventually became one of California’s richest people then at age 49. He built the lodge in 1935 to escape California’s higher income taxes. Yes, even back then, people left California to escape taxes!

There is a lot more to the story, and you can read more about it here… https://en.wikipedia.org/…/Thunderbird_Lodge_(Lake…
From the Studio Karanten”

Thunderbird Lodge

Since April 2020 I have posted on Facebook a painting each day as a brief diversion from the lockdowns and other bad news this year. Neglecting my weblog, I’ll post in the coming days some of my better posts.

“Thunderbird Lodge”, 24×12, oil on gallery wrap canvas

Today’s offering from the house of detention. After I did the painting shown yesterday, I launched into a ‘Vertical Water’ series, one of which is shown below. There is also a great backstory about the “Tahoe Elephant” on my weblog here–

The Tahoe Elephant

“To breathe the same air as the angels, you must go to Tahoe”
–Mark Twain

Lake Tahoe with its deep blue crystalline waters, aqua shallows, edged by boulder strewn shores, and surrounded by serrated mountain tops is the crown jewel of the Sierra Nevada mountains.


"Thunderbird Lodge", 24x12, oil on gallery wrap canvas
“Thunderbird Lodge”, 24×12, oil on gallery wrap canvas


Fifth in my ‘vertical water’ series, is a view of Lake Tahoe…one of my frequent subjects since I exhibit at a nearby gallery, James Harold Galleries in Tahoe City, CA. This view showing a glimpse of Thunderbird Lodge, is a bit of a hike off the east shore road, Hwy 28, and off any beaten trail. I did a plein air piece right by here which is featured in the title page of the book Plein Tahoe.

Built in 1936, Thunderbird Lodge, or the Whittle Estate, is located on the east shore of Lake Tahoe. George Whittle, a somewhat eccentric, reclusive, playboy millionaire inherited his money, and with some of it bought up 20 miles of Lake Tahoe eastside shorefront, then built the lodge. He unwittingly became a conservationist, as most of this property now is fairly unspoiled shoreline and National Forest owned by various government agencies.

So what about the elephant? Whittle kept an elephant (along with other wild animals and birds) at the estate in a custom made pen and house. Mingo, his 600 pound Sumatran pachyderm, was a memento of spending his youth at the circus, and it is rumored he used to fly it back and forth to Woodside, CA (his other estate) in a seaplane! There are other myths that Mingo drowned in the lake either by falling off a barge or a seaplane crash. With the cold water, it is rumored there is a preserved elephant at the bottom of Lake Tahoe. Don’t drink the water?!? None of this has ever been verified, of course!

Thunderbird Lodge is currently owned by the non-profit Thunderbird Preservation Society. It is now a popular tourist attraction, with public tours by reservation, hosting weddings, corporate functions, and other special occasions.

A detailed history of Whittle and the lodge can be found here.

Once again, I took a few photos of the development of the painting. I originally was undecided on whether to put the lodge in. Once I decided to paint it in, of course it became the story! Click on each photo to see a larger version. Email subscribers may have to click on the above title to see them.



Oh, here is a picture of Mingo, and one of the lodge from another viewpoint. Click on each photo to see a larger version. Email subscribers may have to click on the above title to see them.