Finding Beauty in the Grid

Electric transmission line painting by Thomas Van Auken

About a block from my home, an electrical transmission line runs parallel to Parham Road on the far side of the road. It’s screened by trees so I barely see it, and I pay it no mind. But these paintings by Richmond artist Thomas Van Auken almost makes me wish I had a transmission line in my back yard.

If I were Dominion Virginia Power or Appalachian Power, I would commission this Van Auken (about whom I know nothing more than what I’ve already told you) to paint a whole series of transmission-line scenes. Where others see blight, he sees something else. Not beauty exactly, but something worth viewing.

Check out his Facebook page. Van Auken’s self-portraits are something to behold.

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12 responses to “Finding Beauty in the Grid”

  1. Andrew Roesell Avatar
    Andrew Roesell

    Dear Jim,

    As the houses and big buildings have come to fill the land in Fairfax County and beyond, I’ve come to appreciate the beauty of powerline and pipeline rights-of-way. Sometimes those are the only views of open land we have when we look down while driving by them, at the undulating hills marked with behemoth steel pylons or man-sized orange posts. Thanks for sharing Mr. Van Auken’s work.



  2. LarrytheG Avatar

    I remember a proposed VDOT road a few years ago that went over a pristine section of river and in the NEPA doc under scenic impacts – they argued
    that the bridge significantly enhanced the scenic experience of all the drivers on the new bridge and from the river – canoeists would experience a significant and beautiful architectural structure!

    but to respond in advance to a possible Steve Haner comment – yes electricity, roads and pipelines ARE beautiful things that benefit us all so significantly that we have a quality of life that is the envy of the world.

    I still would like to see Dominion put solar in those right-of-ways and doing so probably would more than pay for itself in reduced costs of keeping the vegetation down.

    but wait – isn’t this the same Jim Bacon that also argues that wind turbines are UGLY and harm scenic views! Perhaps he can commission Mr. Van Auken to work his magic on wind turbines!

    1. I don’t recall saying that wind turbine are ugly. I’ve reported that other people find them ugly, but I don’t have strong feelings one way or the other…. Except my first exposure to wind turbines in real life was in Hawaii. We were on a cruise ship sailing around the island of Kauai, and I saw my first wind turbines along the ridgeline of a ridge that fell straight into the see. I found the sight stirringly beautiful.

      1. LarrytheG Avatar

        well.. okay.. but you were citing their impacts to scenic views as reasons why they are hard to permit and build… right?

        no such similar arguments against power lines?

        yes.. I’ve not seen turbines in Hawaii but I’ve seen quite a few in Texas and the area near Mount Storm in Md/WVA – and the midwest and I don’t really see them any differently than I see powerlines other than they fact they are moving and more likely to catch one’s attention – and I too think the are compelling structures that also symbolize electricity and it’s importance to our lives.. not that different than other grid infrastructure including dams, solar , a tidal barrage in Nova Scotia, pump storage, geothermal, etc…

        1. LarrytheG Avatar

          You REALLY gain a REAL appreciation of what we take for granted when you visit a place that does not have grid electricity.

          it’s quite a culture shock.

          Some folks might think it “quaint” at first blush until they realize that most plumbing also requires electricity .. washing dishes, getting showers..etc…

          Most of Northern Canada above the population centers is without grid electricity.. everything up there runs off of diesel generators.. and product or service that use electricity reflects the 4-5 times increased cost of electricity.

          Remember getting off a river after 3 weeks , dirty and savoring the idea of a long warm shower and getting a cabin and finding out that there was no plumbing.. zero.. the main house had limited hot water that came from solar and generators – i.e. 5 minute showers with lukewarm water! Had to wait until the good old USA to get a proper shower!

    2. Beauty is in the eye of the beholder. As for those North woods showers, LG, the diesel fumes and noise from those put-put generators add a certain “je ne sais qua!” don’t you think?

      1. LarrytheG Avatar

        @Acbar spent a few days in Fort Simpson – jump off for the Nahanni …and noticed the town had a “power plant” with big oil tanks outside…it was not really noticeable unless you were right next t it.. . The oil comes by barge up the McKenzie River … that river has 500, 000 cu ft in it and good current so it takes a strong tug and of course they have to wait until the ice breakup at the mouth so the storage tanks back in town are large enough to carry the winter and then some.

        driving North from US – you can see the power lines following the road – and you can when they end which means – no more service stations until you get to the next town with tanks and power plant.. !

        but yes to the fumes..

        solar does exist up there.. and I read some where that some of them are starting to upgrade to micro-turbines! Solar .. saves fuel… which is 5-6 bucks a gallon!

  3. Andrew Roesell Avatar
    Andrew Roesell

    Hey, Larry, which are the most racist: Electric pylons, pipelines, or wind turbines?!? Just curious. ;-))<



    1. LarrytheG Avatar

      dunno Andrew.. never thought about it that way… 😉

  4. TooManyTaxes Avatar

    Many years ago, I worked part-time for the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources. One of my responsibilities was to coordinate the review of transmission lines. Wildlife biologists often made suggested changes to best utilize them as transportation corridors for migrating animals. Generally stream crossings were the most sensitive matters environmentally.

  5. Peter Galuszka Avatar
    Peter Galuszka

    Any chance of cancer from living next to these?

    1. LarrytheG Avatar

      My cooperative – REC allows houses under them. The lots are apparently super-affordable judging by the style of houses… 😉

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