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–

Leave a Reply