Lanny Little’s 1975 painting of a Studebaker Speedster at the Forest Grove Concours was bought by the State of Oregon and hangs in the Capitol building in Salem.

By Paul Duchene

Over the past four decades, thousands of pictures of polished chrome and glimmering steel have captured during the annual Concours d’ Elegance in Forest Grove, first on film and, more commonly in recent years, in digital formats.

56-studyThe images of the classic cars can be found in scrapbooks, on posters and several websites.

But one of the most evocative pictures of the Forest Grove Concours d’Elegance is displayed in a building better known for horse-trading than car collecting. On the second floor of the Oregon State Capitol in Salem, next to offices used by House members, is an oil painting of a 1955 Studebaker President Speedster, beneath the trees on the Pacific University Campus, in the most outrageous colors in which the cars were offered – lemon and lime.

The picture was painted in 1975 by then-local artist Lanny Little and is one of four or five he executed from photographs he took at the event. In his first contest, Little’s Studebaker won an award at the Artists Biennial at the Portland Art Museum and was purchased to be a part of the State Capitol art collection, as an example of “the style known as photorealism” which emerged in the late 1960s. “It was a point of pride, especially early in my career,” he said.

But the owners of the car were dismayed at the picture’s fate, said Little, who has a BFA and an MFA from the San Francisco Art Institute. “I met the owners of the Studebaker at the next concours, and introduced myself. They said that they would have purchased the painting if the State hadn’t, and were disappointed when they couldn’t buy it,” he said.

gull-wingWhat followed was a bizarre reversal of the creative process. “They told me that they hired a photographer to take a picture of the painting while it was in the museum and they had it enlarged and put on a painterly textured surface, framed and hung it above their sofa,” Little said. “This was a case of me taking a photo of the car, making it into a painting and then they took a photo and turned it into a painting.”

Little said the only other picture he kept track of from that time is a dazzling red 1955 Mercedes-Benz 300 SL gullwing coupe, which now hangs in a bank in California. “It’s over the desk of somebody who’d lend you money to buy one,” he said.

Now semi-retired in Bellingham, Washington, the 71-year-old Little spends his time painting cityscapes and landscapes, in what is an elegant town in a dramatic natural setting. “I moved here in 1998 from Friday Harbor and started painting murals when the recession hit the fine art market badly. I used to paint seven or eight hours a day but I’m happier doing just four or five hours now, I’m just coasting.”

lanny-littleLittle says he’s not really a car guy. “I like them as long as they’re comfy and drive nicely,” he said. “I don’t collect them.” Now working mostly in acrylics, he hasn’t painted any cars in 35 years, but he might consider painting one or two on commission. His website is www.lannylittle.com. “If somebody sends me a good photo I might try to make a nice painting,” he said.

And if you want to check out Little’s work, to see what you’d be getting, just swing by the State Capitol in Salem.

About the car

The one-year-only Studebaker President Speedster was introduced in January 1955 with every option available and about 400 pounds of garish chrome bumper. With a $3,301 price-tag, it was the most expensive Studebaker, and just 2,215 were sold. In 1956, it evolved into the handsome Golden Hawk, and sales doubled.

Paul Duchene is a 40-year automotive journalist, who has written for the Chicago Tribune, New York Times, The Oregonian and numerous magazines. He announces at the Portland and Monterey Historic races and is a judge and emcee at the Forest Grove Concours d’Elengance.