CORINNE - Ellen Cook, Headliner Media Specialist, August 26, 2022
There are two things that pull at Nik Astle’s heart – family and his artwork.
Nik found a way to combine the two in a way that satisfies his desire to create, but also brings him a little recognition along the way. His Box Elder County Fair art submission for 2022, that of Hereford cows and farm equipment painted on old bills of sale, won this Corinne man the Sweepstakes Award in the Advanced Amateur class in Fine Arts.
Nik said the sales receipts are from the Ogden Livestock Auction and once belonged to his great-grandfather, Clarence Astle.
“I wanted to try and capture what the cattle industry was at that time,” he said. “Those papers are dated in the 1960s, and at that point in time, and through most of my childhood, we had nothing but Herefords, the breed that is on those papers. The truck on there was actually my great-grandpa’s farm truck. I wanted to show that back in those days we didn’t have horse trailers. Everything was hauled by trucks.”
He has also included other small details, like cattle without ear tags. “Those didn’t exist back then.” He said he is pleased with the outcome, as far as telling the story of a changing cattle market.
“I think they come together really well. The stock papers themselves tell a story. They show what cattle prices were at the time. The fact that they are on the Ogden Stockyards paper is important because back then that was kind of the main place you would take your cattle in this area to go sell them.”
He admits the unique idea of painting “memories on memories” was not his originally.
“I would like to say I came up with the idea on my own, but I didn’t. I started following a bunch of contemporary artists on social media. One guy in particular impressed me. I saw some work where he had painted on some horse registration papers and I thought that was about the coolest thing I had ever seen and decided I wanted to try that myself.”
He said he shared the idea with his parents, Benson and Peggy Astle of Bear River City. His mother told him she had kept quite a few old papers from the family.
“We looked through them and saw those sales receipts of my great-grandpa’s and I thought those would be perfect.”
It was trial and error trying to put watercolors on paper not specifically prepared for artwork, but the finished product is truly worthy of the ribbon which hangs next to it.
This is not the first time Nik’s artwork has been seen “front and center” by fairgoers, however.
In 2005, while Nik was still at Box Elder High School, an art teacher who recognized his talent encouraged him to enter one of his pieces to be judged for the annual fairbook cover. Nik created a pen and ink drawing using, of course, family. It was a black and white picture of his grandfather, Bill Astle, and Nik’s brother, Rhett.
“I wanted to capture a different side of the fair, a more everyday side, of just going to get a hamburger. Anybody and everybody can do that.”
His “family” take on the annual county event was selected as the winner that year.
Although art back then was something Nik excelled at and had enjoyed doing since a child, – “I hated coloring books because I wanted to draw my own stuff” – after graduation he put it on the back burner and concentrated instead on an engineering degree, a degree he now uses at Northrup Grumman. He also got married to wife, Kellie.
“I just stayed doing art on the side. When my kids were little, I focused on getting my young family going.”
But in 2020, the world slowed to a crawl and Nik revisited that love he had developed in his youth.
“When Covid hit, the positive in that was it gave me time to pause and get back into doing art. It has really just been the last year and a half that I have gotten into doing it again, particularly watercolor paintings.”
He may be just getting back into canvas and color, but he has already exceeded the quality art he did back in high school. His sweepstake winning work is a great example.
“I know it is family related, and that is what I like to do, but I hope it speaks to what other people do, particularly in our county. There is a lot of farming and a lot of cattle operations, so I hope this work reflects that. If you look at just the sales receipt, that only tells part of the picture. I hope that my addition illustrates even better what the cattle industry was back then. Selling cattle was a whole different thing. I hope this piece captures that story.”
Some of Nik's artwork: (courtesy photos)