It's been quite a year for artist Thomas Paquette. Earlier this year, the State Department acquired one of his massive oil paintings and installed it in the new NATO Headquarters in Brussels, Belgium. This week, his one-man exhibition begins the second leg of its three-stop tour when "America's River Re-Explored: Paintings of the Mississippi from Source to Gulf" opens at the Watermark Art Center in Minnesota.
In preparing for the exhibition, Paquette made several tours along the Mississippi, taking notes and snapping photos. He returned with that information to his studio in the Allegheny Highlands where he spent much of the last two years preparing his oil paintings for the touring exhibition.
His work reveals breathtaking landscapes, often juxtaposed with the pervasive presence of industry. During a studio tour earlier this year, Paquette discussed his painting of an image from Minnesota.
"Some smokestacks with a lot of effluent coming out of them changes the whole landscape. Just a beautiful, peaceful lake. It's so early in the morning, there's not even a ripple on the water, but shooting up into the sky are these plumes of clouds."
Another painting, "The Mound Builders" also carried a poignant message. In the distance can be seen the Gateway Arch of St. Louis. Paquette says the perspective is taken from the ruins of the Mississippians, a Native American civilization which resided along the river nearly 1,000 years ago who left behind massive mounds of dirt.
"I also know that we are mound builders because over here is one of our ubiquitous garbage landfills," said Paquette who sees irony in the contrast.
"They (the Mississippians) left a big pile of dirt that we are finding has clues as to who they were," Paquette said.
"And we have left behind these mounds that will, for better or worse, mark who we were."