Lowell Davis, an illustrator who created the rustic Red Oak II complex near Carthage, Missouri, as an homage to his hometown, died Monday. He was 83.
According post Monday night on the Red Oak II page on Facebook:
Ozarks Alive described his early career after his stint in the Air Force:
Lowell Davis rose to fame in the 1970s. An initial contract eventually led his bucolic art – at the time, consisting of figurines and paintings – to be sold at more than 2,000 gift shops in the United States and Canada. His sought-after scenes of rural life brought appreciation and depth to the Ozarks, the inspiration for which was often pulled from his own life. “I have the advantage that my work has soul and people can relate to it,” he remarks.
Although he doesn’t know for sure, Lowell estimates that he’s done between 3,000 and 4,000 paintings. That’s in addition to his 450 figurines, many of which were produced in Scotland. At one time, he also became a children’s author, writing and illustrating a book on Big Jack and Goldie, two chickens from his flock.
Red Oak II’s website explains how the complex came about:
“The 1930’s seemed to be a much simpler time. Neighbors helping neighbors, everyone had a garden and canned their own food. They had a milk cow and they even made their own clothes. By today’s standards, they were poor … they just didn’t know it!”
These words from Lowell Davis recall a vanishing way of life for the people of thousands of little towns across America — and it was just this sort of life that Lowell experienced during his early years in the town of Red Oak, Missouri.
But all this began to change shortly after World War II when folks began moving to the cities in search of the good life. Now some sixty years later, most of these rural communities are ghost towns. When Lowell returned to his boyhood home from one of those “good life” careers in the Dallas/Fort Worth area – that’s just what he found.
It was then that he began buying the homes and businesses his beloved Red Oak – moving them twenty-three miles to his Fox Fire Farm near Carthage, Missouri and restoring them to their original grandeur – a place now known as Red Oak II.
Back in 1987, Red Oak II was just a cornfield, but to Lowell, it was a blank canvas.
“I don’t believe that an artist should be restricted to use only paint or clay. It can be anything including junk, wood, even an old building. To me, Red Oak II is a combination of a painting and a sculpture, and it is just made from things that someone else threw away.”
Red Oak II consists of a Phillips 66 service station, schoolhouse, feedstore, diner, town hall, jail, blacksmith shop and general store — several of which were picked up and hauled from Davis’ hometown — plus a smattering of Davis’ whimsical sculptures. The original Red Oak lies about 20 miles east of his re-creation.
Several homes also sit on the complex, including Davis’ own, where he often would sit on his front porch, puff on his pipe and talk with tourists there if they happened to walk by.
Red Oak II sits about a mile north of Route 66, northeast of Carthage. It’s a popular side trip for many Route 66 travelers, mostly because of its unique nostalgia angle.
Rebuilding his hometown cost him a lot of money — and a marriage. But he righted himself and remarried.
According to a 2007 article in Missouri Life:
Lowell’s love of Red Oak and its close proximity to old Route 66 is evident.
“People’s lives are so busy these days that I think they’d like to be reminded of a simpler time,” he says. “We’re the best-kept secret around, and Carthage is part of Route 66, so I think more people should come to see what we have around here. There is nowhere in the world I would rather live than right here. I want to sit on my porch, talk to the folks that come by, paint, and live my good life.”
And here’s a video interview from six years ago:
Services are pending, but the Facebook post stated Red Oak II would set up a fund to donate to its preservation in lieu of flowers. We’ll pass along more information when we get it.
A story we posted yesterday indicated at least one part-owner of Red Oak II would carry on, including adding improvements such as a miniature train.
UPDATE: The Joplin Globe posted a story about Davis’ death. Arrangements still are pending.
UPDATE2: The Springfield News-Leader published a good story about Davis’ burial at Red Oak II.
(Image of Lowell Davis via his Facebook page)