A relative recently posted the above image on Facebook and tagged me, asking if I recognized the location. When I saw this, I gasped, because I realized that this was the view of Youngstown I had grown up with. The painting portrays the view down Mahoning Avenue toward downtown, with the east and northeast sides of the city in the distance, from a point just west of the intersection of North and South Portland Avenues. I lived two houses in, on North Portland. The view is from almost exactly the place where I waited for the 9 Mahoning bus to go downtown to work, or to walk up to Youngstown State.
The image is reproduced from a 26 x 39 watercolor painting (available for sale!) by Christopher Leeper, a fine Youngstown area artist living in Canfield. It is one of several recent works portraying West Side scenes. Leeper is a 1988 BFA graduate from Youngstown State, an adjunct faculty at Youngstown State, and past president of the Ohio Watercolor Society. We have seen him on public television in Columbus, where his works have been shown. You may view his work, learn more about him, or even contact him via his website: christopherleeper.com.
Some details caught my eye. One is the car toward the left turning into a side street. That would be my street. On the left side of Mahoning, behind the car is the building that used to be Dave’s Appliance store. Obviously, you are seeing the city on one of those cold, probably single digit days (vapor coming from the chimneys) that often follow snowfalls. I will have you notice that the streets are clear. Those of us who don’t live in snow belt areas like Youngstown just can’t understand why it takes days to plow the streets.
Our street was also off a hill. It was a good thing they were so good about clearing the snow. I remember blizzards where we would listen to the tractor trailer rigs hauling steel from the mills struggling up the hill. You will notice that the businesses (or at least the buildings where there used to be businesses) are all right next to the sidewalks. Some had parking lots on the side but many were meant to be walked to, or you would just park on the street.
The Youngstown area is often referred to as the Mahoning Valley. The painting gives one a sense of this with rising hills above the flood plains on each side of the Mahoning River. We were west and south of the river, which runs from northwest to southeast through the city. The faint hills in the distance were north and east of the river. This was more or less the view out my back window as a young boy, where I could look across and up and down the valley from our house.
The Beatles song, “In My Life” begins with these lines:
“There are places I remember
All my life though some have changed
Some forever not for better
Some have gone and some remain.”
This painting so caught my attention because the views, the vistas we grew up with are always there with us, always a part of us. True, some has changed, some not for the better, some gone, and some remaining. But the Valley is still there, the major downtown buildings, and even the utility poles lining the streets. The memories of cold, crisp sunny winter days come rushing back, with the vapor of a thousand chimneys rising across the Valley. May I never forget the view from home!
Post update: My wife and I both paint and after writing this post, we had a chance to take a workshop with Christopher Leeper. He is a great teacher and very approachable. Last summer, we had a chance to see his painting in a show at the Columbus Museum of Art–even more striking than the digital image!