The Story Behind the Painting: “Grafton Schoolhouse”

“On a particularly warm afternoon during the Rockville Plein Air event in Utah, I searched for some shade from which to paint an old log building at Grafton Ghost Town near Zion National Park,” says Roland Lee. “I found the perfect spot under a big cottonwood tree that bordered a pasture, where cattle were quietly grazing. As I set up my watercolor easel, I noticed that a cow and her calf had taken shelter in the same shady spot, on the other side of the barbed-wire fence.

The curious creature approaches.

“I had just begun my value study when the calf became curious and pushed its face through the wire to see what I was doing. Before I could finish the sketch and set up my watercolor board to begin painting, I’d had to shoo him away several times. The little guy finally got the message, but not his mother.

Roland Lee poses with his value sketch and partially finished painting.

“Well into the piece, I stepped away to get a drink from my bag. I turned back just in time to see mom take a long slithery lick with her big tongue right across the face of my unfinished painting. With a holler, I leapt forward, reaching my easel just as it toppled over and sent everything flying.

“I shouted at the two meddlers as they trotted away, then gathered my gear and moved to another spot down the road, never finishing the painting. I did, however, complete a nice little painting of the old Grafton schoolhouse nearby. As I related the tale to a fellow painter that evening, he said with a smile, ‘I would say the cow had good taste in art!’ ”

“Grafton Schoohouse” (watercolor, 4 x 6 in.)

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Kelly Kane
PleinAir Magazine and American Watercolor Weekly Editor-in-Chief With more than 20 years experience in art publishing, Kelly Kane has served previously as Editor-in-Chief of Watercolor Artist magazine and Content Director for The Artist’s Magazine, Drawing, Acrylic Artist, and Pastel Journal. She has interviewed many of the preeminent artists of our time and written numerous articles about painting, drawing, art education and art history. She is now the Editor-in-Chief of PleinAir Magazine and the American Watercolor Weekly newsletter. Click here to send her an email.


  1. My grandfather went to school in that old schoolhouse. His grandfather built a little brick house that is still standing right around the corner from the schoolhouse/church/community center.
    Fun story, Roland!


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