In the final decade of his life, retired from a lifetime of work on the railroad and with the circus, Joseph Yoakum produced over 2000 drawings. Self-taught and relying on his personal vision, Yoakum created mostly small-scale landscapes based on the memories of his travels and his imagination. With very humble materials (ballpoint pen, colored pencil and Kraft paper) Yoakum created drawings that were rich in pattern and symmetry, organic form and sinuous line. His work was greatly admired by members of the Chicago Imagists circle, some of whom were regular visitors to his storefront on Chicago’s south side, enthusiastically collected his drawings and were personally inspired by his imagery.
In the two drawings, Le High Valley Reading Pa, 1968, and Humphreys Peak Highest Point in Arizona Near Ash Fork Arizona, 1970, we can observe Yoakum’s process. Note how he established a schema for each of the landscape elements—trees, mountains and clouds—and then created varied compositional arrangements using those schemas. It is as if he had a private vocabulary with which he was constantly inventing new stories.
A third, wonderful drawing by Yoakum, Monmoth Ridge of Ozark Mtn. Range and Spring River Near Monmoth Springs Ark: St. Louis and San Francisco Railway, 1961, is part of the Elmhurst College Collection.
College Purchase, 1989