Richard's Blog

Close-Ups of John Henry 

Wednesday, March 3, 2010 4:59:54 PM


In about 10 days I've completed John Henry- a large scale work with about 40 characters and 6 scenes. Here are a few close ups:

Here's the right side- John Henry with his shaker racing the steel drill.

The Steam Drill- with Colonel Dabney to the right of the operator.

John posing with the lyrics

Dying with Oak mountain Tunnel in background.


Banks of The Ohio; Close-ups 

Monday, February 15, 2010 10:25:53 AM


Finally finished Banks of the Ohio, another murder ballad, and I'm going to start on John Henry this week. It's difficult to portray the fight scene in a realistic way- I show him pulling a knife and forcing her to fall back into the water where she eventually drowns. I've used a pink pastel pallette to soften the image.

Here are a few close-ups:

Here's the villan sing the song 

I asked my love to take a walk...

He pulls a knife and plunges her into the Ohio River

Stood and watched as she floated down...

The lyrics

A House Divided- Lincoln in Oquawka; Close-ups 

Wednesday, September 23, 2009 12:56:57 PM

A House Divided- Lincoln in Oquawka; Close- ups

Here's a close-up of the speech. The location is the Moir Bank which was located on what is now Schuyler St. and 2nd St. (Schuyler St. was Main St.) To the left of Lincoln is SS Phelps, then seated is a reporter for the Oquawka newspaper and next to the flag, standing on a chair is Barrack Obama.

There are many stories about SS Phelps who founded the town of Oquawka along with his two brothers. SS was nicknamed 'hawk eye' by the Blackhawk Indians because he was an excellent marksman and hunter. The Burlington newspaper, The Hawk-Eye, is named after him as well as the state of Iowa- "The Hawk-Eye State."

This is my protrait of Lincoln

Here's the bottom right with the spectators.

A House Divided- Lincoln in Oquawka 

Wednesday, September 23, 2009 10:30:30 AM

A House Divided- Lincoln in Oquawka

I just finished a commission of my painting of "Lincoln in Oquawka." Lincoln was in Oquawka, Illionois in Oct. 1958 to give a speech in his election campaign for the Illinois senate seat. Running against Lincoln was Douglas who didn't make the Oquawka stop. Here's the report:

Saturday, October 9, 1858.
Oquawka, IL and Burlington, IL.

Escort with brass band meets Lincoln at Oquawka Junction (now Gladstone) and takes him to home of S. S. Phelps. At 1 P.M. he is escorted to stand in business section, where he speaks for hours. After meeting he leaves for Burlington, Iowa, for evening speech at Grimes' Hall. Oquawka Spectator, 4 October 1858; Burlington Hawkeye, 11 October 1858; J. W. Grimes to Herndon, 28 October 1866, William H. Herndon Papers, Henry E. Huntington Library, San Marino, CA.

The site where Lincoln spoke was the Moir Bank in 1858 and is now the Oquawka Diner:

[Starting from the levee that was once the abandoned railroad bed we come to the Oquawka diner, owned and operated by George Olson, Jr. In 1952 George and Ida Olson along with their children, George Jr. and Donna, started this small riverside restaurant. Small, because at the time they opened, it was just a small place with very good food. About a year later they enlarged by moving what used to be an old city boat or warehouse and later the Jim and Harry McOlgan fish house, to the east side of the Diner, thus giving a much larger seating capacity for the patrons. George Jr. is still running the Diner today. In an earlier day yet, just east of the Diner was the Hodson Canning Factory. It has long since been gone. Just two years ago in 1984 the old brick structure that used to be the quarters of the Moir Bank that Abe Lincoln stood in front of and gave his part of the Lincoln-Douglas debate, had to be torn down because of deterioration. During its past useful years it was known as the Blue Goose Tavern.]

In 1827, Dr. Isaac Galland erected a log cabin and began trading with the Indians at the site now known as Oquawka. In 1828 Stephen Phelps of Lewistown, IL purchased the claim for his son, S.S., who made his home there. Oquawka was laid out by Alexis Phelps and his brother, Stephen Sumner Phelps on July 9, 1836."Oquawka" was derived from an Indian word Oquawkiek meaning "Yellow Banks".

This is what I came up with. Rosie Melvin, who helped commission the piece suggested I do a young Lincoln. In 1858 Lincoln had no beard. I thought that besides the protrait I'd need to have Lincoln giving the speech. So he's on a platform in front of the Moir Bank with the "Yellow Banks" and Mississippi River in the background. I figured it would appear something like this in 1858. It proved to be difficult to say the least. The front right spectators are loosley drawn and painted.

I used an earlier sketch I found on-line as the basis for the speech. I added S.S. Phelps and Barrack Obama. I'm sure S.S. Phelps was there and since Lincoln's speech directly influenced events that led to President Obama, I figured it would be fitting to include him also.

I'll have some close-ups next blog,


Pretty Polly: Professional Close-ups 

Friday, July 24, 2009 4:15:27 PM

Pretty Polly: Professional Close-ups


If you've been following this blog you can look back and see the steps I took to paint, Pretty Polly. Here are the professionally digitized close-ups:


Here are the lyrics, with a vine and two black-eyed susans. You can see the grass sticks and leafy ground cover.

Here's the bottom right: it's a good shot of Pretty polly "a-pleadin' " in vain for her life.

This is good shot of Pretty Polly holding a rose in happier times and B.F. Shelton playing the banjo

This is the main scene on the upper right. To see the full painting go to my last blog.

Pretty Polly: Richard L. Matteson Jr. C2009 

Friday, July 24, 2009 3:10:34 PM


Here's the finished painting of Pretty Polly, professionally digitized. I'll have some close-ups tomorrow.

                                   Pretty Polly: Richard L. Matteson Jr. C2009

Anatomy of a Painting- Part 5 Pretty Polly 

Sunday, July 19, 2009 6:39:53 PM

Anatomy of a Painting- Part 5 Pretty Polly

I guess I'm finished. With this painting I could keep doing details, but I'm going to stop. Here's a rough pic (my camera isn't the best- the colors aren't same as the original) that I did today of the whole painting:

The painting is too big to see the details but at 30" by 40" many of the details too small and hard to paint.

Here's the main scene: Pretty Polly pleading for her life with Willie standing over her.

Here's Pretty Polly "yonder she stands."  I decided to have her holding a red rose.

Here's the ghost of BF Shelton playing the song while the event is happening. On the right you can see part of the shovel.

Above are the lyrics; with two daisies and a vine growing up the right side.


Anatomy of a Painting- Pretty Polly Part 4 

Thursday, July 16, 2009 12:27:08 PM

Anatomy of a Painting- Pretty Polly Part 4

These are the last close-ups showing the steps I've taken painting Pretty Polly. Hope you've enjoyed the process. I'll be finished the painting soon. It's taken almost twelve days with about 7 or 8 days painting several hours a day. Whew! The canvas is fairly large 30" by 40"- it's been tough... Did I succeed? It's not done but overall I'm happy with it.

Here's a Close-up of the lyrics now. The first line is repeated with the second line making one verse- so in reality there are 12 verses. There are two black-eyed Susans on each side and a vine growing on the right side. It's taking shape and I don't have many details left to do. Here's the full painting now:

The background is done- the foreground will need to be done and the last step will be adding some grass growing over the leafy ground cover. I still haven't done the people or shovel but they look good roughed in- I won't do much because overpainting hurts not helps. The banjo picker and the large oak tree are done:

This is the ghostly figure of B.F. Shelton- singing the song while the event is taking place.

On the left is Pretty Polly "yonder she stands." I probably should have used that lyric in my lyric section (done by the Coon Creek Girls and others). I haven't painted Pretty Polly details at all (added some red for the lips- a bit too much tho). I was thinking about having her hold a flower- dunno. Not sure if it will add anything.

Anatomy of a Painting- Pretty Polly Part 3 

Tuesday, July 14, 2009 10:48:30 AM

Anatomy of a Painting- Pretty Polly Part 3


I worked on the painting some and here's the full view now:

If you look at the painting in my last blog post- part 2, you can see I added in the some details in the left background and the trees to the left of the big oak (with the banjo picker inside):

You can see the ghost of banjo picker BF Shelton inside the tree and the cluster of trees behind the large oak. Drawing and painting the background and foreground has proven to be difficult and time-consumming.

I started the tree behind Pretty Polly, worked on the lyrics section, added a vine growing on the lyrics:

I roughed in a leafy vine with two black-eyed susan flowers growing on each side.

I'm on the home stretch now! There are still many details to do. My goal is to finish the basic painting tomorrow then add in the details of the main characters and the shovel. I'll also add some grass in the foreground at the end. The last thing I do is sign the painting: RLMJR-09, which will be in the right lower corner.

Anatomy of a Painting- Pretty Polly Part 2  

Thursday, July 9, 2009 2:19:31 PM


Check two blogs before this to see details of the painting yesterday.

Here's where we were yeserday:
Full View: I started doing the bottom leafy plants and grass. The left side was not really done at all.

Here's where we are now:

Full View: Quite a difference! I roughly painted Pretty Polly in on the left side and added the grassy knoll background on the left. I added some shade under the trees. You can see the leafy foreground reaches all the way to the lyrics. Here are some close- ups:

The leafy plants in the foreground are taking shape (right side).

Here's the left side with lyrics- it's starting to take shape!

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