Life, history and art come together in Minden |

Life, history and art come together in Minden

by Kurt Hildebrand, Managing Editor
Lou Rickards holds an article from the L.A. Times about his son Robert Rickards paintings of the Lewis and Clark expedition. His son has painted 75 of 84 scenes which are slated to be published in a book. photo by Rick Gunn

MINDEN — Lou Rickards has a lot to show for his 88 years.

He has a room full of model trains he’s built from scrap metal, and he has an antique firefighting Jeep parked in the garage.

But ask him what he’s proudest of, and he’ll talk about his sons.

Rickards has lived just off Stephanie Way for a little longer than 10 years. Before that he lived at Lake Tahoe, where he worked as a building inspector for 17 years.

He and wife Jan moved to Tahoe from Southern California, where they both worked for Douglas Aircraft.

Lou went to work for Douglas in 1939 after moving to California from the Midwest where he worked for Stearman.

“At the time I worked for the aircraft industry, we were lucky if we got five days work a week, usually three or four days. We were subcontracting a job on DC 2 and 3 airplanes. I had to do something.”

One thing Rickards took away with him from the Midwest was his wife, Jan. The couple has been married for 66 years.

When Rickards arrived in Southern California, he found a strike going on at the Douglas plant and had to wait a year before he could work there, but the threat of war put him to work.

Rickards worked on the A-20 Havoc, which was the most produced attack bomber during World War II.

“People don’t realize we built them on an assembly line like cars,” he said.

Lou would come home from the factory with drawings of the aircraft to give his oldest son, Bob.

That interest in drawing would lead to a lifelong passion for the 64-year-old Thousand Oaks, Calif., city planner.

For the past 27 years, Bob has been working on painting tableaux of the Lewis and Clark expedition. Eighty-four of them.

Lou is celebrating because it looks like Bob will have the project wrapped up by the end of the year and in time for the 2004 bicentennial of the expedition.

Lou’s home is decorated with his son’s paintings, not all of which have to do with Lewis and Clark.

“He’s never had a lesson,” 87-year-old mother Jan Rickards said. “He spent 15 minutes in art class in high school then got up and walked out when they tried to tell him how to draw.”

That experience didn’t slow Bob down though, he ended up going to University of Southern California, where he studied architecture.

Bob says he’s been an artist all his life and he’s lived in Thousand Oaks for the last 35 years.

“Over the years, we’ve become like a family,” he said. “I’m always seeing somebody I know.”

Bob became interested in Lewis and Clark when he picked up a book about the expedition in 1975.

“I think a lot of folks don’t know much more than what they learn in school about the expedition,” Bob said. “The Lewis and Clark expedition opened up the western half of the U.S. thanks to the wisdom of Jefferson and the soldiers, frontiersman and waterman who headed up the Missouri.”

It takes Bob 3-4 weeks to complete each of his paintings, depending on the difficulty of the subject and the research he has to do.

“I want to portray the feeling that I’m with the expedition,” he said. “It’s hard to visualize what they may have experienced, so that’s what I’m trying to do.”

Bob is working with his youngest brother, Denny, who has published some fishing books, on a book of the paintings featuring the expedition log entries they’re based on. Bob’s work was featured in a Los Angeles Times article. He is forming a corporation to market his paintings and associated items.

“I’m so excited right now I’m getting goose bumps.”