Circle R Ranch commissions local artist for patriotic murals

Seth Kinker
Neosho Daily News

For many years, Steve and Tammy Roark hosted the Barnyard Days at Circle R Ranch, north of Neosho on Old Scenic Road.

People would come from far and wide for the event held in the first full weekend of October for the arts and crafts festival that also had farm related activities for kids of all ages that ended in 2014.

“I was born and raised here, I’m living in the house I grew up in,” said Steve. “We have a lot of tradition. We’re very proud of the ranch, of what we’ve accomplished. We take great pride in taking care of our barns and our outbuildings, they tell our history. Every one of these structures represents a different period of time in the Circle R Ranch development.”

The mural on the 100-year old Circle R Ranch silo, with silo repairs and the mural done by Sandra Pemberton.

Now, if you take a drive down Old Scenic Road, you’ll be able to see two large patriotic murals adorning the same silo that has stood for around 100 years with the iconic circle R and the barn across the road.

Steve is involved with the Newton County Tourism Council and has been a part of helping get around 30 murals painted in the county over the last 15 years.

It’s been a dream of his for a long time to have some murals painted on his property at the Circle R Ranch and now those dreams are becoming a reality.

“(The Newton County Tourism Council) was looking for a muralist for the Faithful Friends animal shelter,” said Steve. “I had a good friend that said we needed to get ahold of Sandra Pemberton. I reached out to her and we had a very good initial conversation and began talking about ideas.”

“Sandra did that (mural) and did an excellent job on it,” added Steve. “I began talking to her and said, ‘come look at my barns out here, let’s get some ideas on this out here,’ She began sketching and went through two or three iterations of that. She’s very receptive to what you want to do, what your goal is and what you want to accomplish. The theme. She’s been a real joy to work with.”

Those conversations for the murals at the Circle R Ranch began again about two or three months ago.

With repairs being needed for the aging barn and silo that included caulking, scraping, and repainting, Steve thought it would be a perfect time for the murals to be painted on them once those repairs took place.

Steve said the barn and the silo were chosen due to the visibility from the road, with the silo around 100 years old and a well-known local landmark.

A patriotic theme was chosen with strong military ties in the Roark family. Steve served in the Air Force, his father served in the National Guard, two of his brothers served in Europe in World War II, a sister served in the Pentagon in World War II and a nephew and many cousins that served in the Vietnam War as well.

“The family has a strong tradition of military service,” said Steve. “This day and time, I thought patriotism might be a good thing for everybody. That’s the motivation behind it, and we’ve got fourth of July coming up!”

“Were going to try to keep Sandra busy with other mural projects in the county,” added Steve. “My hope is other people in the county with farms will see this and say, ‘we’ll I’ve got a barn or silo I can put that on,’”

Full circle

Pemberton, a Neosho native, has been a working artist for the last 16 years and got started selling art attending Barnyard Days when she was 15-years old with her mom.

“I didn’t know (Steve) personally, but I knew of him when I started going to Barnyard Days with my mom and decided to set up with her and do charcoal portraits there,” said Pemberton.

Health issues in her younger days lead to surgeries that kept her out of athletics, so she started sketching and painting and knew she had found her passion.

“It’s just what I was supposed to do, you know?” said Pemberton. “I love it. Its calming, I get to be creative and express myself.”

Pemberton is an artist of all trades, working on murals, oil paintings, figure artwork, charcoal paintings and sculptures. She’s shown work at galleries in the past but has been kept busy lately with commissions.

 After working on the Faithful Friends mural, Steve had brought up the idea to Pemberton about possibly working on some murals at the Circle R Ranch last winter.

Then, within the past few months as warmer weather has arrived, they touched base again about the project and Pemberton soon came out to the ranch to take a look at her canvass’.

“I talk with my clients quite a bit and get their ideas and then put my spin on it,” said Pemberton on the process. “I knew he wanted something patriotic, he really liked the idea of an eagle and the flag. I just played around (with that). I do a lot of research and then put different references together to try and figure it out. Then I’ll make a design sketch, for these projects I did several, and then we picked the ones we liked. We narrowed that down and I started on it.”

When asked what type of challenges the silo and barn posed compared to other projects she’s worked out, Pemberton first pointed out the weather and then touched on the repairs needed to be made to the old silo.

“The silo was a challenge, it wasn’t just painting the mural,” said Pemberton. “The mural took three days, the actual wrapping and all of that on the silo took three weeks. I did it all by hand because it was in pretty rough shape as far as the paint coming off of it and it’s over 100 years old. It was a delicate process; I didn’t trust a power washer, so I scraped it down. I did have quite a bit of help with that.”

That process took about a month with a week off in between before she started the mural on the barn the week of Jun. 21.

Pemberton scales her sketches but does all the work freehand. The barn mural she was working on, on Jun. 24, was the design initially created for the silo.

“It was going to be orientated a different way, but it didn’t fit the space as well,” said Pemberton. “When he decided he also wanted to do the barn I said, ‘hey,’”

Sandra Pemberton in action working on the mural on one of the barns at the Circle R Ranch on Jun. 24.

“This (mural) is significantly more challenging than the silo,” added Pemberton. “A lot of that is graphic, once you get it sketched out, you’re coloring in the lines. The eagle is so far up (on the silo), if I was to even put more detail in it you wouldn’t see it anyways. It’s tricks of the eye, making it look realistic but it’s simpler. This mural is lower to the ground and closer to the road, so it has quite a bit more detail.”

“I’ve told her I’ll miss her when she’s done and gone out here,” said Steve. “It’s so much fun coming out here, I know what the mural will be, I already approved It but I’m not going to tell anyone. I’ll let them see it when it comes alive. I know where she’s going, what’s fascinating to me is how she gets there. It’s all done free hand. All free hand. I can’t even draw a straight line. Its fascinating what she’s able to do.”

Pemberton told the Neosho Daily News it was always a pipe dream of hers to be an artist where she grew up but always felt like she would have to move away.

“I had big plans of moving away, plans change,” said Pemberton. “I stayed here and have made it work. At this point, I just don’t want to go.”

“It feels great,” added Pemberton on being back where she started selling art, creating art. “I love being back in the country. This versus some work on main street in Joplin recently, it’s nice to have that much traffic see it but at the same time I love being out here. It’s really peaceful. I like that different people will see it. With projects like this, in rural America, who would think they’re out and about and will see some art on the side of the barn? I think that’s super cool.”