Abandoned railroad trestle inspires Best of Show artist

Artist Fredri CowartThere’s a good chance Fredric and Carol Cowart have seen more of the Sunflower State than most native Kansans.

The couple moved to Wichita from Texas in 2006 and began touring their new state right away. Fred Cowart, a lifelong illustrator and draftsman, often sketches the scenes they encounter on their travels. He was especially taken with the Bala Stone Bridge, built in 1887 in Riley County, northwest of Manhattan. The bridge is considered to be one of the largest in the state.

“This bridge is kind of special because it was a railroad trestle, and now the forest has grown all the way across the top of it,” Cowart said. “It’s massive.”

"The Bala Railway Bridge," professional drawing by Fredric Cowart, Wichita KS.

“The Bala Railway Bridge,” professional drawing by Fredric Cowart, Wichita KS.

Cowart captured the scene in a pen-and-ink drawing that went on to win Best in Show (Professional) in this year’s Art is Ageless® system-wide competition.

“I’m pleased and honored” by the win, Cowart said.

Art and illustration were Cowart’s career for decades. He was a draftsman for a petroleum company and served as chief illustrator for Reese Air Force Base. For leisure, he also painted with acrylics and watercolor and created mixed-media pieces. He even composed “The Firepower Theme” in 1983 in honor of the U.S. Air Force Thunderbirds aerobatics team.

The Cowarts also spent a lot of time in New Mexico, where he studied Native American petroglyphs and reproduced them in pen and ink. Cowart published three interpretive sketchbooks of the rock art left by the Jornada Mogollon tribe at Three Rivers Petroglyph Site.

The couple moved to Wichita for Carol’s new job as a dental hygienist at McConnell Air Force Base. Cowart has since drawn several Kansas icons such as the Chase County Courthouse in Cottonwood Falls and Mount Sunflower. And he’s had to learn a few new techniques in the process to capture a hallmark element of Kansas structures.

“I had to learn how to draw limestone. It’s difficult because of the shadow effects you get with it,” Cowart said.

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