The 19th century French landscape painter Eugène Boudin was among the first to paint landscapes, to borrow a contemporary phrase, on site. Rather than recreating a vision from memory, he took his canvas and easel to the precise spot he intended to portray. As revealed by the following quote attributed to him, Boudin equated replicating a landscape onto canvas from memory with folly.

 

Everything that is painted directly and on the spot has always a strength, a power, a vivacity of touch which one cannot recover in the studio… Three strokes of a brush in front of nature are worth more than two days of work at the easel. — Eugene Boudin

 

Boudin, obviously, was not around to meet Bob Ross. The joy of painting notwithstanding, Boudin was a pioneer of the iconic style that came to be known as “en plein air.” Translated, it means open air, or outdoors, painting, an artist with a brush paired with a landscape waiting to be recreated, changing hues and shadows of light there for the taking.

 

The inventions of the portable canvas and easel in the early 19th century and, later, that of the collapsible tube of oil paint enabled artists to better depict those fascinating variants of natural light and weather.

Plein Air on the White River at Gaston’s.

The American artist John Singer Sargent even incorporated the style into his own Claude Monet Painting by the Edge of a Wood (seen at left) in 1885. Monet, of course, is considered the father of impressionist painting, and his work helped introduce plein-air painting into the artistic mainstream and advance the Realism movement that sprang from this crazy notion to get outside and paint.

 

The image of an artist equipped with stool, canvas, easel and palette set up on a beach or inside a wooded grove or even at the lip of a pond filled with water lilies (Monet again) is as ingrained into the collective Western consciousness as any other.

 

Visitors this spring to the upper White River, the lakes around Mountain Home or, specifically, to Gaston’s White River Resort in Lakeview should be prepared to get their Monet on this May. The annual Plein Air on the White River event is scheduled for May 7 to 11 at Gaston’s and coincides with the acclaimed yearly Cotter Trout Festival.

 

The event brings in plein-air painters from Arkansas and neighboring states who, over the course of three days, will paint and sketch the northern Arkansas landscape. On the final day, works will be submitted for judging to Texas artist and gallery owner David Tripp, who will conduct a one-day workshop on a nature trail along the White River before the competition begins.

 

The event is a project of the nonprofit White River Artists. The entry fee is $75, and space is limited, so plein-air artists should make plans soon. Contact Dana Johnson, president of the Ozark Regional Arts Council and treasurer of White River Artists, at 870-656-2057.

 

BLUEGRASS AND STAINED GLASS IN MOUNTAIN HOME

 

Just down Arkansas 5 in Mountain View, the Ozark Folk Center State Park is gearing up for its round of annual spring events including the Mountain View Spring Bluegrass Festival. Hosted by the nonprofit Mountain View Bluegrass Association, the festival runs March 7 to 9 this year and features some of the top national and regional names in the bluegrass music industry.

Coming to the Mountain View this spring — Becky Buller.

Set to take the stage are the Seldom Scene, a four-time Grammy Award nominee; 10-time International Bluegrass Music Awards winner Becky Buller; the Gibson Brothers, winners of 11 IBMA awards; and the Edgar Loudermilk Band.

Ozarks spring

Coming to the Mountain View this spring — the Edgar Loudermilk Band.

Also on the card are Dave Adkins, Catahoula Drive, the Baker Family, SpringStreet, Big Mill and the Redmond Keisler Tribute Band. Tickets for the spring event (a fall festival is held, as well) are available at mountainview-bluegrass.com.

Coming to the Mountain View this spring Seldom Scene.

The folk center’s spring bill also features a chance to experience the April total solar eclipse in a unique way. Visitors can watch the eclipse from beautiful, urban-light-and-pollution-free Mountain View and make their own commemorative 12-inch stained-glass solar-eclipse panel in the process. Three classes will be held to instruct participants how to make them, and attendance is required at each one. The classes will be held in the visitor center lobby on the mornings of April 1 to 3.

Total-eclipse stained-glass panels.

Participants will learn the Tiffany method of stained glass, which uses copper foil instead of lead, and can pick between six quilt square patterns for the design.

 

This is not Build-a-Bear Workshop; participants will learn how to make a pattern, cut and grind glass, apply copper foil, and solder and finish the panel, and they will be working with sharp glass, a hot soldering iron and solder, as well as chemicals.

 

Some manual dexterity is required, and participants are asked to wear appropriate clothing and leave the open-toed shoes at home. All tools and supplies will be provided, and the class is for ages 16 and older. The cost is $300 plus a $64 craft class registration fee and a $95 materials fee.

 

Other classes on the Ozark Folk Center’s spring agenda include forging a knife, advanced broom making, learning pottery on a potter’s wheel, blacksmithing, tin smithing, forming and soldering copper, herbal apothecary, letter press, crocheting a rug, patchwork quilting, yarn spinning, and much more.

 

Visit arkansasstateparks.com/events for more information, or call the Ozark Folk Center at 870-269-3851.

 

Branson: The new Fire, lights and lore, the pop magician and a new hotel   

 

Backtracking from Mountain View up Arkansas 5, past Mountain Home and Gaston’s, and across the Missouri border, one quickly finds Branson, where Gatlinburg, Tenn., and Las Vegas meet in the middle. It bills itself as the live music show capital of the world, which is not hyperbole considering the city topped out at more than 50 live-show theaters, and 60 Minutes itself billed Branson as the “live music capital of the entire universe.”

 

Branson may lie just across the state line, but Arkansans have grown to consider it practically one of their own. Why not? On any given day, Arkansas plates might outnumber the home-standing Missouri tags.

 

Branson regulars have some new attractions to look forward to this spring, starting with Silver Dollar City, the 1880s theme park rated by Tripadvisor as the country’s top amusement park based on traveler reviews and ratings. To their delight, those attractions include the new Fire in the Hole family roller coaster.

Silver dollar city fire in the hole new

A rendering of the revamped Fire in the Hole ride at Silver Dollar City.

The original ride, opened in 1972 as the first indoor roller coaster, was closed at the end of the 2023 season to the disappointment of dedicated fans for whom the ride had attained something close to cult status. Fire in the Hole fanboys did not have to wait long for reprieve. In August of last year, Silver Dollar City leadership announced that it was spending $30 million, the park’s largest investment in a single attraction, to bring back Fire in the Hole, bigger and better than ever.

 

Scheduled to open for the spring 2024 season, the new ride will anchor the new Fire District in the park and be housed inside a five-story, temperature-controlled building to ensure riders waiting in line will not do so in the rain. The new ride will feature three drops, a water splashdown, 14 iconic show scenes with updated special effects, and a custom soundtrack with high-resolution onboard audio to help tell an enhanced story of the Ozarks hill town of Marmaros and the gang of vigilantes known as the Baldknobbers who burned it down.

The new Fire in the Hole, seen still under construction at Silver Dollar City, is five stories high and more than 1,500 feet long.

The coaster track will run roughly the same as the original, just shy of a third of a mile, and its speed will max out at 26 mph. Fire in the Hole historically was a great introductory coaster for children but supplied enough oomph to satisfy older riders — a mashup of Disney’s Pirates of the Caribbean and Space Mountain.

 

Dalton Fischer, communications manager for Silver Dollar City, said it will remain that way, recalling the words in August of Darren Torr, president of Rocky Mountain Construction, the firm that built the new attraction. Torr promised the new Fire in the Hole will be fondly familiar yet daringly different.

 

When the original ride closed last year, it had seen more than 25 million riders from countries across the globe, he said.

 

“There aren’t many rides with a shared experience similar to that,” he said. “As the park expanded, we wanted to make sure our rides expanded along with it.”

 

Fischer said park officials knew a new version was on the horizon when the original ride’s closure was announced. “We knew if we removed that ride, our fans would not be happy,” he said.

 

***

El Mago Pop at Branson Magic Theater.

After splashing down at Fire in the Hole, visitors can discover what Branson has in common with Barcelona, Spain. (A hint: It is not a Woody Allen sequel.) The answer is, of course, El Mago Pop, Europe’s highest grossing illusionist (real name, Antonio Díaz).

 

In 2019, Díaz fulfilled a dream by purchasing Teatre Victòria in Barcelona for the equivalent of roughly $33 million, and last year, he bought the former Mel Tillis Theater for an undisclosed sum and turned it into the Branson Magic Theater, his U.S. base of operations.

 

Díaz has taken his close-up magic all over the world, and his spectacular illusions are in more than 200 countries on Netflix and the Discovery Channel, but there are just two places where El Mago Pop’s illusions are performed in an El Mago Pop theater, and one of them is located off Missouri 248 in Branson.

 

For more information, visit elmagopop.com.

 

***

 

When night falls in Branson, Ozark Nights (with a capital N) comes alive with history and mystery, or so says Lynn Berry of the Branson/Lakes Area Chamber of Commerce and Convention & Visitors Bureau.

 

Ozark Nights is a new interactive experience where history meets mystery amid a really cool light show. Berry shared the backstory:

Ozark Nights.

“Guests will have a nighttime encounter with natural and supernatural wonders through an exploratory walk along a gentle, illuminated path deep in the forest. The interactive journey takes place within an ancient mountain hollow, once home to the Owen family, some of the earliest settlers in the region.

 

“For generations, folktales have surrounded the old Owen homestead and the sudden disappearance of the family more than 100 years ago. Rumors of otherworldly sounds, flashes of light and strange phenomena have captivated the imaginations of residents and visitors alike.”

 

The history of the old Owen ranch makes for a good ghost story, and it has an Arkansas connection. Here it is, courtesy of ozarknights.com:

 

In 1875, as his diaries tell the story, Amos Owen purchased a buckskin map from a frail old man in Pea Ridge for “a bag of molasses, hard candy and a gallon of Tennessee white mule.” The old timer claimed that it was a map to a Spanish treasure that had been buried north of the White River.

 

Amos and his wife, Sarah, along with daughters Grace and Hannah and the new-born James, followed this map into Missouri. Sarah’s diary entry notes that, “We found a beautiful little valley… and I think we found our home!”

 

The Owens settled into trying to scratch out a living in the rough Ozark hills, even as Amos started excavating the opening of what appeared to be a long-abandoned mine. In the summer of 1885, the Springfield Herald reported strange lights being seen in the area. The locals began referring to the strange lights as “foxfire” or “spook lights.” These stories soon entered Ozarkian folklore.

 

Sarah writes, “…the more we work, the stranger things are becoming out here. We’ve found that we can work at night! The trees, the creek, even the rocks put off a light like I have never seen. We’ve set up an outpost with supplies so we can stay nearby. Just walking to the mine seems to give us new energy!”

 

Amos’ last entry on Dec. 21,1885, tells a tale: “Today we found what seems to be a silver, metal door, but hard like iron. Unlike any metal I know of. The treasure must be behind this door, and tonight, with the blessing, we’ll find it.”

 

On  that frigid Winter Solstice Eve in 1885, the Owen family was certain that their hardscrabble lives were about to change.

 

Did he use black powder to blast? His neighbors certainly reported loud explosions and great flashes of color. Wash Hembree, out hunting possum that night, told the Herald, “Stars were fallin’ from the sky, the earth was shakin,’ and I was awaitin’ for Gabriel to blow his horn!”

 

As dawn broke, Hembree made his way to the Owen property to check on his reclusive neighbors. What he found defied explanation. The Owen ranch, indeed, looked as if the stars had descended. Trees were down. Their homestead was destroyed, and there was no sign of the Owens. They had vanished.

 

Sheriff Ikey Combs finally showed up from Forsyth to investigate and confirmed that, indeed, the family had disappeared. He put up a heavy chain across the road that entered the ranch and added an iron padlock.

 

Ozark Nights is not all alluring light show and ghost stories, though. Located in the West End Entertainment District on Missouri 376, the attraction includes the Home Fires community firepit area, open to all guests, as well as private firepits where guests can roast s’mores and share their own weird tales. Food and beverage service is available, and the nighttime attraction is open from sunset to midnight most nights.

 

Learn more at ozarknights.com.

 

***

 

The region surrounding Branson hosts millions of visitors each year. Explore Branson reported a record 10 million of them in 2021. All those visitors need a place to stay; therefore, hotels and lodges are a common sight in Branson.

The Ozarker Lodge

One of the city’s newest is offering a unique way to experience a Branson vacation: the Ozarker Lodge boutique hotel.

 

Located off U.S. 165, the Ozarker is billed as the area’s first true boutique hotel experience. Its branding focuses on the nostalgia of family road trips. A vintage, wood-paneled Jeep Wagoneer parked out front welcomes guests upon arrival.

 

Its accommodations, rustic yet modern, include a new outdoor swimming pool, a natural playground for the kids (in age or heart), creekside soaking tubs, firepits for s’mores and even poolside movie nights with plenty of popcorn.

 

Preview the whole experience at theozarkerlodge.com.