Fitty, fitty, fitty, who’s gonna give me fitty?

25 July, 2020.

The auctioneer’s sing-song change echoes across the yard, amplified over speakers, through the crowd and across the acres of freshly mowed hay. It’s the first public auction I’ve seen take place this year, and I wear my mask even though this takes place outdoors. People can’t help themselves, they crane their necks, lean forward, and get closer together as the next sale item comes up on the block. It’s a twenty foot extension ladder and as always, the auctioneer starts high at a hundred dollars and cajoles the crowd for a bid. Canny buyers wait, and eventually someone grudgingly offers ten dollars, and then the auctioneer is off and running, his words crushed together into one single supercalifragilisticexpialidocious word.


He coaxes up each bid, often using humor to do so. The auctioneer has his finger pointed at a heavyset man. The bidder is unsure about going any higher and glances at his wife. “Don’t look at her!” the auctioneer cries. “She’ll just tell you no, and you know you need this! I’ve seen your garden!” The item is a hoe, and the man raises his bid and wins. He’s paid more than I would have for an implement that looks to be at least fifty years old and falling apart.

This is my favorite kind of auction, taking place in the yard surrounding an old farmhouse in the country. There are all manner of things that will be sold today: kitchen ware, furniture, tools, lawn tractors, old frames, and at least two dozen cowboy hats. Boxes of untold and unseen treasure are in neat rows, but nothing I can’t live without.

Auctions are great events for people watching. For one thing, the crowd is largely stationary. Unlike sketching people on the street, one has a bit more leisure to capture a pose. Also, attendees are often interesting characters. Exaggeration is often the best way to communicate a likeness.

Mournful Sounds

20 July, 2020.

There are some songs, mournful and keening, that take on an otherworldly presence when sung by the right person, performed by the right combination of instruments. I love traditional Irish music – especially ballads and laments – and I love the rawness that is translated to Bluegrass, Appalachian blues, wails, the piping of a tin whistle, the joyful bad ass-ness of a plucked banjo.

Fresh scents

19 July, 2020.

The smell of straw is the first thing you notice, followed immediately by fruit – especially peaches. In a few months the scents will be emanating from bushel basket after bushel basket of apples. Outside, it’s a little dusty in the heat. The odor of a running tractor. Corn. Soil.

Rector Mansion

13 July, 2020.

The Rector Mansion is the former home of Sarah Rector, the first black female millionaire, who entertained guests such as Duke Ellington, Count Basie, Joe Louis, and Jack Johnson. (Oh, to have been a fly on the wall!)

As members of the Creek Nation, Rector and her family members each received allotments of 160 acres of land in Oklahoma. By the time Sara was 12, a gusher was discovered on her land and the young girl became a millionaire. She lived in this American foursquare until the stock market crash in 1929.

The mansion is currently vacant and is considered to be one of the most at risk historical sites in Kansas City.

Soul Food

12 July, 2020.

Across the street from the Phillips Service Station I shared yesterday is this interesting restaurant. King’s Table Soul Food Restaurant is one of those purely authentic spots that seem to have emerged organically from the neighborhood. I know nothing about the place: Is the food any good? Has it been here for years and years? Is it a community institution? I want to believe the answer is yes to all those questions.

Phillips Service Station

11 July, 2020.

Yesterday I shared one of the “at risk” iconic Kansas City landmarks that I’ve been sketching recently. A survey of Post-World War II architecture by the City identified properties of particular note, such as the Phillips Service Station at 59th and Prospect. Willy’s Petroleum Company (currently Calley Tires), whose unique gull-wing design, was built in 1963. An example of the Modern Movement/Neo-Expressionism, this unique standardized design was produced by the Phillips Petroleum Company under the development of company architect Clarence Reinhardt. Reinhardt incorporated mid-twentieth-century angular forms often seen in drive-ins and the tail fins of Cadillacs into his service station design. Although this location is still a place of business, as the neighborhood has fallen into decay much of this structure has fallen on similarly hard times.

Katz Drug Store

10 July, 2020.

This iconic Kansas City building was built in 1934 as home to the first Katz Drug Store outside the central business district, at 39th and Main. It was the first major work by famed architect Clarence Kivett, who also designed numerous Kansas City landmarks, including the KCI Airport, the Alameda Plaza Hotel, Kauffman Stadium, and many others. It incorporates elements of both Art Deco (the clocktower) and Art Moderne (the horizontal bands and a curved store front) in the styling.

It was still in operation when we relocated the EAT Design Studio immediately across 39th Street in the 1990’s. Although the clocks had already stopped working, that clocktower was part of the striking hustle and bustle view from my drawing table.

This iconic building is one of many historical structures at risk in our city.

Down home.

9 July, 2020.

The road between home, which is the place where I’ve lived and worked for decades, and “down home” – the area where I grew up – is ninety minutes of narrow country highway. It passes through numerous small towns, most of them very much like the last.

Old service stations and grain storage are sometimes the only form of business in evidence on this route. Don’t bother getting out a credit card until it’s time to pay for your gas either because there are no card readers, digital displays, or push buttons on these pumps. They are manual: remove the nozzle and rotate the lever clockwise a quarter turn, pump your fuel, then go inside to pay the whiskered fellow in greasy coveralls.

Traveling this road is to step back in time.

Quiet Place

8 July, 2020.

Other than the rustle of a few leaves and the distant whir of a window unit air conditioner, there’s no sound, no movement, no sign of activity at all. It’s mid-day and the pavement is hot.