To find Texas’ most famous living bluebonnet painter, you must first get on Dallas’ traffic-clogged Central Expressway, fight your way north past the LBJ Expressway, exit amid a cluster of auto dealerships and fast-food restaurants, and then head for an aging two-story cement-block building, where such enterprises as Xpress Carpets and the Dallas division of the United Steelworkers of America lease small gray suites.
If you head toward the back of the building, turning left just past the restrooms, you will come to a glass door covered by brown venetian blinds. On the door is a man’s name, “ W. A. Slaughter,” printed in simple white lettering. Upon opening the door, you will see carpet the color of dried blood, a burgundy La-Z-Boy, a brown desk and chair, and a window that offers a sweeping view of a parking lot and prefabricated storage sheds that can be rented by the month. Take two steps forward and you will see the man whose name is on the door bent forward in a chair in the adjoining room, dabbing with a paintbrush at a canvas propped on a wooden easel. In the drabness of far north Dallas, 73-year-old W. A. Slaughter is at work on another Texas Hill Country landscape, where the sky is always light blue, the clouds are fleecy, the land is light blue, the clouds are fleecy, the land is bathed in sunshine, and the hillsides are forever blanketed with the purplish-blue heads of bluebonnets.
One of the most scorned endeavors in all of art, the butt of jokes among museum curators and art-school-trained contemporary painters, the bluebonnet painting remains a permanent fixture of Texas life, as unyielding as a West Texas mesquite tree. For every serious collector who is searching for an available Picasso, there are at least a dozen people in Texas looking for a good bluebonnet—and no bluebonnet painter alive is in greater demand than Slaughter, an unimposing former Lutheran minister who often shows up at his studio wearing an old-fashioned string tie and a purplish nylon windbreaker commemorating the 1994 Super Bowl in Atlanta. “These aren’t really artist clothes, are they?” Slaughter asks me in a gentle voice, his eyes blinking behind his glasses. “Well, to tell you the truth, I don’t know what an artist is supposed to look like.”
His thousands of fans do not care how he looks. Nor do they care that he comes up with ideas for his bluebonnet paintings while lounging in