TORONTO, Ont. - Lance Lowther never painted a truck until 1987. A sign writer by trade, he was detailing the side of a Southwestern Express tractor when company owner Ray Haight challenged him to "pai...
TORONTO, Ont. – Lance Lowther never painted a truck until 1987. A sign writer by trade, he was detailing the side of a Southwestern Express tractor when company owner Ray Haight challenged him to “paint me my Kenworth!”
At the time, Haight’s trucking business was burgeoning. He was running 55 tractors out of a terminal near Guelph, Ont., and Lowther had just finished designing Southwestern’s distinctive cactus and sunset logo.
“Who wants a painting of a truck?” Lowther asked. “I do,” said Haight. “And I have a feeling a lot of other people, too.”
Lowther has always been an artist. His mom, a painter herself, found him drawing a car in his high chair at two years of age. By the time he was eight, she had him set up with his own easel and oil colours so he could paint the CPR locomotives that steamed through his family’s backyard in Parry Sound, Ont. But painting trucks was something new .
“I had to learn to paint chrome,” he says. “Trains don’t have any chrome and trucks have a lot. It’s like painting a mirror.”
Lowther worked that whole winter on a representation of Haight’s 1987 Kenworth. This first success earned him a contract with an American publisher, who soon afterward issued a limited edition of Lowther’s truck collector plates.
But his breakthrough came in 1992 when he was invited to the OTA convention to demonstrate his truck painting skills. Not surprisingly, Lowther was swarmed by a legion of trucking executives.
“At first I didn’t realize they wanted to see themselves in it,” says the 62-year-old Lowther, in the living room of his London, Ont. bungalow. “They wanted to go back to their founding and include the people that are important to them.”
“We found out there was a story in every company,” adds Esther, his wife and business partner of nearly forty years.
Since his debut at the convention in 1992, Lowther has painted over 50 truck portraits. The paintings combine a degree of magic realism and a fastidious attention to detail. He’s able to fuse people and situations along with trucks from bygone eras to relate the personal history of a company. The scenes are so precise and intricate that you could step right into them. He’s particularly pleased with the painting he’s just completed for Kim Richardson, president of KRTS in Caledonia, Ont. “Kim phoned me and told me, ‘Lance, you’ve painted my dreams,’ and I guess that’s what we do,” says Lowther.
The portrait shows Richardson at the passenger side of his 1949 International KB3 (a can of Labatt’s Blue in his hand) along with his wife and kids and rambunctious black lab, Stony. His red Corvette, in the background, was inserted later. Most importantly, it looks as if Richardson’s uncle Stan is about to get behind the wheel of the vintage International. His maternal uncle, now deceased, raised him as a child and Richardson wanted to have a visual record of the strong bond between them.
Interestingly, Lowther created the painting before Richardson’s cottage on Stony Lake near Lakefield, Ont., was completed. Lowther took pictures of the lake and meticulously constructed a scale model so he could get the proper perspective on the rooflines. Indeed, the process by which the Lowthers develop a painting is almost as interesting as the portraits themselves. Lance and Esther conduct extensive interviews with each client in order to access the particular narrative of the trucking family. While Lance makes quick sketches, Esther probes for the personal details that weave a rich emotional fabric around the portrait.
“I’m blessed with the ability to see a painting almost as soon as I hear the story,” says Lowther.
The next step is for Lance to take lots of photos of the setting and subject. “Everybody has a certain smile, a certain gait. And if you don’t capture that, it’s not the person,” he says.
Lastly, he lays out the drawing on canvas and begins the painstaking brush strokes that transform reality. Lowther pays particular attention to the paint jobs on the trucks he’s portraying. “It’s over-painting, over and over, very thin layers, to simulate the transparency of a truck’s paint finish,” he says. “It’s difficult to make metal look like metal.”
Lance Lowther has been called the Norman Rockwell of the trucking industry and rightly so. “We’ve seen tears,” says Esther, “and we know what touches the heartstrings. Unless you reach people on an emotional level, the point of the story is lost.”
The painting of Dan Einwechter, president of Challenger Motor Freight of Cambridge, Ont., on this month’s cover, is a case in point. In the painting, Dan Einwechter is five years old and he’s stepping out of a 1955 Ford fuel truck with his dad, who died in 1960.
Lowther’s paintings sell for $7,500 to $10,000. A top price of $16,000 was paid at auction by Stan Dunford. It depicts the first made-in-Canada truck, a 1900 Still Electric, and Lowther donated the proceeds from the sale to the production of the OTA’s “Share the Road” video. Each painting takes two or three months to complete and Lowther has been busy this year. In 2003 he’s chalked up five paintings for trucking notables as diverse as Bob Lodge (owner of the 730 truck stop, Cardinal, Ont.), John Cyopeck (CanPar CEO), Rick Gaetz (Vitran) and Walter Scott (McArthur Express, Cambridge, Ont. owner), along with Kim Richardson. Look for these recent paintings along with Lance and Esther Lowther at this year’s OTA convention in Toronto, Nov. 12-14.