"I fell in love with it and I wanted one," he said.
So Mansker came back home to Eureka Springs and lined up local models, then painted them into a woodland scene crossing a creek. The painting had been up on the wall of his staircase about a month when friends, sitting around his dining table, suggested that it would look great on a t-shirt -- all they needed was a title. Then they came up with one: 'In the Natural State,' a twist on Arkansas's latest tourism slogan.
"I had been wanting to do t-shirt of my work for a long time," Mansker said. "This was perfect."
The painting was for his house, and Mansker has yet to decide about selling the t-shirt. But he gave the first run to the models, including Alex, the bartender at the Cathouse Lounge in the Pied Piper Pub. Alex, who has modeled for Mansker since he moved to Eureka Springs 20 years ago, recruited other pub employees for models.
"We posed in his studio, holding hands," she said.
Mansker, who grew up in Kansas City, found his path to artistic success when he was 35. That's when he moved to California and started working with architects and engineers, creating large works of art for banks, hotels and commercial buildings going up in the '80s. He lived there 15 years, first in San Francisco, then in San Jose and San Diego
"We were selling art all over the world," he said.
Trends in painting follow trends in architecture and interior design, he said. Etchings and water colors were in vogue to complement the stark interiors in the '80s. Then it was impressionist landscapes and traditional interiors. Abstracts came back in the mid-90s, complementing the chrome and glass buildings going up. In 2000, the arts and crafts style came back, with dark wood and deep colors, reflected in the painting of the four women. Mansker, who studied art with John Basher, had mastered technique and could paint in different styles. Seeing the population implosion coming in southern California, he moved to Eureka Springs and built a house and studio on Mill Hollow Road .
There, he specializes in custom art: art created for a specific place. Mansker was commissioned to paint a wall mural for the Northwest Arkansas Children's Shelter dining room last fall. He also did a mural for an International Truck dealership, paintings for allergy clinics in Northwest Arkansas, and art for a medical center wing in Searcy. He did the large local landscapes displayed on the fourth floor of the Crescent Hotel, and his painting of Blue Springs is in the site's downtown shop.
Mansker, who works in oils, said when he first moved to Eureka Springs, he mostly did deep woods scenes. In the last few months, his art has been moving into town -- historic buildings, churches, the train station -- and he is contemplating a series of paintings of nightclub and restaurant interiors. He does his own printing and framing in a two-story building adjacent to the house that matches its architecture. One of the studio-tour visitors who saw the "Natural State" painting said that he is related to a person who was on the committee that came up with the tourism slogan.
"When he comes to Eureka Springs, he's going to visit the studio," Mansker.
Mansker plans to give the relative a copy of the poster, also made from the painting. And the artist plans to wear the "Natural State" t-shirt to the Mad Hatters Ball, along with the oversized top hat he wore last year. The hat, which took a prize, has a black brim with the tall crown covered with another of his paintings of nudes splashing in a creek.
Mansker was not only inspired to paint by Rubens, but also modeled his studio after the master's. Two storys high with a wall of windows, Mansker's studio has a floor of large brown and white squares, which he made in the same pattern as the tile floor in Ruben's studio. Drops of oil paint dotting the floor add to the old-world ambiance.
"I love his floors," Mansker said, "and love his women."
For more information about Larry Mansker's art, go to www.larrymanskerstudio.com.