From the gas stations to meeting Ed Ruscha, Road to Ruscha was a huge success! Although there were many U-turns along the way, everyone was eager to find the 26 gas stations photographed by Ed Ruscha in 1962. Without expectations of what we would find, everyone was interested in each stop. Once the locations were found, students would scatter the sites to find artifacts, take photographs, and interview local residents to see what they knew about the gas stations. Site after site, we were greeted by the harsh reality that the gas stations were no longer there. Although some of the buildings have been repurposed, there were several sites where only the foundation remained. Here are some examples of the gas stations then and now as well as short stories from the road.
Mobil in Shamrock, Texas
The station in Shamrock is now 66 Cut and Clean, a beauty salon. When we arrived to the site, it was clear that someone had to get a haircut. Seth Feken, a photography student, decided it was time for something short for summer. When he later told Ed Ruscha about the experience, showing the before picture, Ed asked him, “Why did you cut all your hair off?!”
Standard in Amarillo, Texas
The group spent most of the day in Amarillo. First, we visited with Jon Revett and Vermillion Editions Limited. Jon gave a talk on “Art and the Great American West,” which included information about Ed Ruscha as well as Robert Smithson. After the talk, we went looking for the Standard station. The Standard station in Amarillo is special because the photograph inspired a series of paintings by Ed Ruscha. Today, it is K&T Automotive and owned by Khang An Nguyen. Read more about the site in a post by Shelly Perkins, a photography student. Before leaving Amarillo, we travelled several miles outside of town to visit Smithson’s Amarillo Ramp. Jefferson Chang, a geology graduate student, reflects on Smithson’s work in his post.
Self-service in Milan, NM
In Milan, we found that the Self-service station had been removed and covered by a parking lot for Family Dollar. We were able to use the light posts as well as the mesa in the background as points of reference to identify the original location of the Self-service station. Several students went inside nearby stores to talk to the locals about the gas station that was there in 1962. One conversation led a store owner to give an old map of the area to Katie Bush, a multidisciplinary studies student. Other students and faculty explored the area for artifacts. Martin Koch, a geographic information systems student, discusses in a post that he used an artifact to help confirm we were in the right location.
Dixie in Lupton, AZ
After a couple of U-turns, we found the Dixie site. There was nothing but the foundation and old telephone poles. However, this site was abundant in artifacts. Students found an old security camera, a broken skateboard, a rusted spray paint can, and a glass bottle with many insect skeletons inside. Tania Khouri, a photography student, notes a connection between the glass bottle and Route 66 in her post. The next day, we visited more of the 26 gasoline stations in Holbrook, Flagstaff, and Williams before arriving in Needles, CA. We left Needles for the Mojave desert, which was the subject of several posts by the students. Finally, on the evening of the fifth day, we made it to Los Angeles!
Los Angeles, CA
In Los Angeles, we were graciously welcomed by Ed Ruscha and his staff, representatives of his gallery, and his brother, Paul. As everyone entered, each person was given a number for some prize giveaways. So I could not wait to see what Ed was going to give away to these students. We started our tour in his library where he discussed his curatorial experience with the exhibition The Ancients Stole All Our Great Ideas at the Kunsthistorisches Museum Wien. Then we moved into his studio to find recent works hanging on the walls and sketches for future works on the tables. From there, we stepped outside to see Ed’s gardens and old cars. His dog, Woody, followed us around as we explored the space and took many photographs to remember our experience. (Enjoy a post by Gary Gress, one of the project’s leaders, about Woody.) At the end of our visit, he gave away five items from his studio: two books from his library, a copy of Paul’s book, a pencil he bought in Oklahoma in the 1960s, and kumquats from his garden. It was a rare and exciting opportunity that we will never forget.
After our time in Los Angeles, we spent time in Kingman and Winslow, AZ before making our way through Albuquerque, NM and Vega, TX. 3,000 miles in 10 days with university faculty and students was quite the adventure! And it is probably too much to put into one post, so I strongly suggest that you revisit the project’s website. Lastly, a big thank you to our fearless leaders: Todd Stewart of the School of Art & Art History and Gary Gress of the Department of Geography & Environmental Sustainability. I am so happy to have played a role in this project!
For more information on the project, feel free to contact the faculty who put this together!
Curator of Academic Programs | Fred Jones Jr. Museum of Art