Dallas artist Erika Huddleston found Waco Creek continually surprised her in the seven months she painted the stream, disappearing from public view at times, resurfacing in hard concrete channels at others.
Her own exhibit based on Waco Creek has had surprises of its own, most notably its relocation after structural problems caused the Art Center of Waco to close its building in October.
Like Huddleston’s watery subject, “Erika Huddleston’s Static/Dynamic Waco Creek” has appeared in an unexpected place, opening for exhibition in the butterfly hallway at the Mayborn Museum Complex.
The show — seven impressionistic oil paintings, maps of the area, vintage photographs of the creek and a video loop of footage shot at the creek — will run through Jan. 21. Those wishing to see it will have to pay the museum admission of $8, $7 for senior adults and $6 for students, in contrast to the free admission to past Art Center of Waco exhibits.
For Huddleston, the Mayborn exhibit represents a finish line for a project that started early in 2017, although her first sighting of Waco Creek came years earlier when she was lunching with a college friend at a restaurant on the Interstate 35 frontage road near Baylor University.
Since then, the thirtysomething artist has painted other riparian environments in Corsicana, Waxahachie and Dallas. She initially thought about Cameron Park in Waco, but decided that park drew plenty of affection and attention. Waco Creek, the little portion with which she was familiar, offered more unknown territory to explore and bring to light.
Huddleston’s interest in art and the environment evolved from her graduate studies in landscape architecture after undergraduate degrees in fine art from Vanderbilt University and interior design at the Parsons School of Design in New York.
Her years in New York, Dallas, Nashville and Austin sharpened an interest in urban parks and green space. Visual art came into the picture when she opted to do on-site paintings rather than analysis of aerial photographs for the ground studies of a design project of Austin’s Shoal Creek.
She’s called herself “a landscape architect who paints” with her work a way to illustrate the aesthetic intangibles of a natural environment within an urban setting.
Huddleston found more to Waco Creek than the concrete canyonized section that runs through the Baylor campus to its mouth at the Brazos River — seven miles’ worth stretching from New Road to the river that she split into upper, middle and lower segments.
Assembled and with small tributaries added, Waco Creek drains much of greater Waco. “Most of the people in Waco live in the Waco Creek watershed,” she said.
The seven paintings in the exhibit alternate in size, suggesting the rise and fall of water levels, and interpret the creek from locations near Common Grounds coffeehouse, Bell’s Hill Park, the now-demolished Floyd Casey Stadium and Academy Sports.
“I thought about naming the exhibit ‘Hide and Seek with Waco Creek,’ ” she quipped.
Each life-size painting, created on location, took Huddleston about two weeks and though highly impressionistic, reflects differences seen at various sites — limestone bluffs, knees of bald cypress trees, materials swept downstream during heavy rains, a dragonfly, a corner of the Brazos River on the horizon.
What’s not pictured are the people that happened by while Huddleston painted, Baylor students who rarely interacted with her and more voluble homeless people, some of whom lived in remote portions of the creek in shielding underbrush. In fact, some city parks workers advised the artist to steer clear of some overgrown areas where help might be slow in coming if she needed it. Huddleston agreed. “I’m so focused when I’m painting I’m like a sitting duck,” she said.
Logs detailing what Huddleston saw and experienced while painting in each location accompany the canvases and maps depicting the reach of Waco Creek hang on the hallway’s opposite wall, with the video played on a wall at the hallway’s end.
Maps dating from Waco’s history show Waco Creek more prominently before flood control measures and channelization in the mid-20th century put much of the creek underground or out of sight.
The Dallas artist hopes the show acquaints Waco residents with the waterway that in some places is literally under their feet. It may surprise them, too.
“I got more than I bargained for,” she said.