Frank Loudin: Nostalgia fuels a life of visual storytelling

Frank Loudin is unabashedly old school. His artistry is grounded in detail, tissue overlays, hand-drawn renderings of complex structures and unapologetic nostalgia. He’s a man unashamed of his emotions and sensitive to the nuances of a story.

Through an online auction that began Aug. 29 to benefit Orcas Center, Loudin is letting go of 50 striking examples of his nuanced storytelling along with dozens of prints.

It was time.

After he and Jannie, his wife of 62 years, began downsizing their life it became apparent he no longer would have studio space to paint nor a place to store his robust collection. What would become of his unsold collection?

“A friend heard me whining about it and suggested I consider selling them to benefit the Orcas Center. Jannie and I have so many wonderful memories of the center, and I’ve exhibited there in the past — even tapped dance on stage! It felt like a natural fit.”

“Besides,” he smiles, “I don’t have to do anything. Just give them the paintings, and show up for one night. They’ll take care of everything else. Leaves me time for my naps.”

Listening to the 91-year-old artist talk about how he came to his craft is an adventure in storytelling, though he cautions the wide-eyed listener that what they hear may not be totally factual.

“I’ve told these stories so many times,” he says with the twinkle in his eyes of a mischievous young man, “even I’m not too sure they happened.”

Caveat Emptor.

The tales he shares begin with his father, a mountain boy growing up dirt poor in West Virginia. Timber and coal mining jobs employed many of the able-bodied, and a future outside the tunnels and forested hills were rare. It wasn’t until old man Loudin, at 20, was drafted into the first World War that he wore shoes for the first time in his life. When his dad fell in love with Loudin’s mom, the back-country boy had some hard decisions to make.

“She set the record straight,” Loudin said. “If he was to marry her, my dad would have to attend college, which he did. He followed that with graduate school and, ultimately, a Divinity degree from Boston University and ultimately became a Methodist minister.”

His eyes welled up.

“I was deeply proud of him. Sometimes I’m embarrassed to admit that I never had a religious connection with my father,” Loudin said. “I’ve always felt bad about that because I loved and admired and respected him so much. He was an amazing, gentle man.”

Loudin’s illustrious seven-plus-decades career encompasses, by the artist’s own count, some 1,300 original paintings, including 600 architectural drawings, “the kind with tissue overlays,” he explained.

In fact, architectural renderings were the focus of Loudin’s early career. He studied art and architecture in New Mexico and Colorado, and illustration at the renowned Art Center School of Design in Los Angeles.

He developed a reputation for creating stellar renderings of complex designs and worked on projects that took him to Mexico, England, Alaska and Texas. It was his love of history, however, and images from his years traveling the country’s west and southwest that became the hallmark of his art.

“When Jan and I hooked up, we dedicated our spare time to travel. We’d follow Blue Highways, back roads that took us through forgotten places on maps: sparsely populated villages, old mill towns and long-ago abandoned farms. Images of old sawmills, tractors, barn signage — all of it appealed to me at some deep level. It still does.”

With a trained eye for detail, Loudin’s paintings offer mechanically correct images of vintage biplanes and steam engines, historical old mine heads and vintage John Deere tractors and magical images of teeny-tiny fairy-folk gathered at the base of a thundering waterfall — all of them inspired by, or the inspiration for, a story.

This is a man in love with his creations. Even now, years after painting a lovely branch of Washington red apples, he chuckles with delight as he points to the small cider processing machine that sits atop one apple and the incredibly small machinery that transports the cider along the branches to small trucks for delivery. His is a mind rich with imagination, which may explain why he has 57 original short stories on his computer waiting to be compiled.

With no studio of his own where he can lose himself in creating a story on canvas and where his paints and brushes are easily accessible, writing may be Loudin’s next creative career.

For now, though, 60 paintings need to move into new places.

“I know my work isn’t for everyone. But I hope some people will like what they see and appreciate the care I took in telling the story with my brush,” he said. “The paintings are like my children. They’re figments of my imagination; embodiments of my spirit. Each one of them is a part of me and I want them all to end up in good homes.”

Given the artistic acumen of the island’s art-loving community, that shouldn’t be too tall an order. And do ask the artist about the story behind the painting. It will be well worth your time.

UPDATE: COVID restrictions canceled the Loudin exhibit’s Opening Party; it is now rescheduled to Sunday, Nov. 21 from 5-6:30 p.m. at Orcas Center. The Closing Party is scheduled for Dec. 5, from 5-6:30 p.m.

Art by Loudin.
Art by Loudin.