Sketching the Old West

I mentioned to a friend I was going to draw in Virginia City.  “Virginia City, Nevada?” she asked.   “No,” I replied, “Virginia City, Montana.”   A search for Montana ghost towns showed this one to be on my way to Yellowstone.  I had to check it out.

It’s not really a ghost town.  People still live there.    Weathered wood buildings from the late 1800’s  line the main street.  For ten years after the discovery of gold in nearby Alder Creek in 1865,  Virginia City was a thriving community, in fact the capital of the Montana territory.  When the gold ran out in 1875 the town languished and the capital moved to Helena.   Today it’s a National Historic Landmark and a fascinating peak into Old West.

I started with a walk around town to become familiar with the details and viewpoints.  I loved the weathered wood, the leaning storefronts and the sense of history in the simple architecture.  There was so much to draw!   Where to begin?   Since it was a hot day, I looked for a shady spot.  I found a nice bench under a roof overhang and jumped into the first drawing.   I decided to do a series of quick sketches to capture the feel of the place.  Later I would have time to do more detailed drawings and watercolors from my reference sketches and the many photographs I took.

103 Virginia City

Yes, the light post leaned, which worked nicely with the swaying roofs and loosening boards of the storefronts. One of the things I did not include in my drawings is tourists.  Somehow modern folks in their sunglasses and shorts didn’t seem to fit. Someone else might want to do a drawing contrasting the modern with the old.  There are many ways to approach these subjects.

103 Virginia C

Although this is a popular tourist attraction, it was not overly crowded and I found many places to sit out of the way with good views of the buildings. I really enjoyed my day in Virginia City and would love to go back and spend more time there.

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