Thursday, September 28, 2017

Was Jerry Simpson really sockless?

We Kansans know about Dodge City and the cattle drives.  We know about homesteaders, and some of us are descended from those courageous settlers.  We know about the cowboys and Indians, even if much of what we think we know comes from the movies.  But how much do we know about the late 1800s, when the progressive movement swept across the heartland.

I have shared in this blog that after the Civil War many Union soldiers came to Kansas to claim a homestead, and the legacy of those men who fought in Lincoln's army in defense of the Union partially explains why Kansas remains such a dependable Republican state.  But what is less known about Kansas history is the importance of Kansas during the populist movement.  Because Isaac B. Werner kept his journal during this period of Kansas history, I have learned a great deal.

Many of the leaders of that movement were Kansans, and several lived in or visited the communities in our region.  The Kansan I am going to share with you this week lived in Barber County, and he was a very colorful fellow.  Some even thought he might have been President had he not been born in Canada, although he came to America with his parents when he was six.  During the Civil War he served with the Illinois Volunteer Infantry, and after moving to Indiana he signed on as a deckhand on a Great Lakes steamship and rose to the position of Captain.  It was after his marriage in 1870 that he and his wife came to Kansas, eventually settling in Barber County on a ranch.  The deadly winter of 1884 killed his entire herd, and he first dipped his toe into politics, serving as sheriff in Medicine Lodge.

Like many populists, Simpson first joined the Greenback Party, then Union Labor, then through activity in the Farmers' Alliance he found his way to the People's Party.  His career as a member of the U.S. House of Representatives from Kansas included service from March of 1891 to March of 1895, and after a two year interruption, from March of 1897 to March of 1899.  He liked to portray himself as a country bumpkin, catching political opponents off guard because they had underestimated his intelligent ability.

When his service in elective office ended, he and his wife moved to New Mexico, but when he suffered a brain aneurysm he asked his wife to return to Kansas, realizing he didn't have much more time and wishing to die in Kansas.  He died in 1905 and is buried in Maple Grove Cemetery in Wichita.

But, the question asked in the title of this blog is whether he was really sockless, so I will answer that question, although the explanations for how he got the name "Sockless Jerry Simpson" vary.  Some say that Jerry mocked his well-to-do political opponent by describing his feet as 'encased in fine silk hosiery,' to which the man fired back, silk socks were better than wearing none at all.  Instead of taking offense, Jerry used the name to contrast his down-home common sense and honesty with his opponent's fancy talk and empty promises.

Another version has Jerry giving himself the name by directly pointing out that his opponent wore silk socks while he didn't wear any.  A third version claims that a newsman accused Jerry of wearing no socks and Jerry didn't deny the charge, turning the remark on his opponent by referring to his silk hose.

Exactly how he got the nickname may be uncertain, but the fact that he used it to appeal to his audiences of debt-burdened farmers to establish their common economic struggles is clearly agreed.  As a candidate, he was a good story teller with a ready wit, and if he played up his rural background by sometimes whittling in the doorways of Congress, opponents were foolish if they assumed this canny, well-read Kansan was the fool.

The answer to the title's question is "probably not," but if having you think he was sockless helped him win your vote or pass a populist bill in congress,  he didn't care a bit if you called him "Sockless Jerry."   

Thursday, September 21, 2017

Sunflowers Everywhere!

Photo credit:  Larry D. Fenwick
In a recent blog by a friend, she commented on the amazingly abundant native sunflowers this year, contrasting them with the poor dry-land corn.  We have become accustomed to fields of commercial sun flowers in recent years, but that was not what she meant.  On roadsides, in ditches, along pastures and cultivated fields, anywhere they can find a space, large or small, native sun flowers have grown.

You may remember two very early blogs I posted in 2013 about Sunflowers.  Although the sunflower is the Kansas State Flower, and is beloved for that reason, farmers--including Isaac B. Werner--are not always so enthusiastic.  There are several journal entries in which Isaac complains about the hard work of hoeing sunflowers and sand burrs from around his trees, as well as complaints about sunflowers in his corn and potato fields.

Photo credit:  Larry D. Fenwick
Yet, they are beautiful, and on our way to the Kansas State Fair recently, we paused to take photographs, which my husband added to on a recent trip into Pratt.  Much of this week's blog will be sharing photographs.  A few other wild flowers are included.

Those of you who have followed this blog for a long time may remember the pair of posts titled Isaac and the Sunflowers--Part 1, and the following week, Part 2, from 2013.  You may want to return to them to read more about sunflowers, but in particular I want to remind you about what is called the Vogel Model describing the pattern of seeds in the center of a sunflower.  As a reminder I will republish the illustration, but what I want to include in this blog are photographs of the many different kinds of sunflowers that were shown at the Kansas State Fair, all of which show Vogel's pattern in their seeds.
Photo credit:  Larry Fenwick

I will add that the "holes" you see in the patterns are not the result of poor seed growth.  I followed an adult woman looking at the sunflowers I photographed, and she thought she was being very quick and unobserved as she picked seeds from the sunflowers on display.  Some of the sunflowers had been seriously disfigured by other seed collectors, but you can still see the Vogel pattern.

Queen Anne's Lace

Keep your face to the sunshine and you cannot see the shadow. 
It's what the sunflowers do.  --Helen Keller

Those who bring sunshine into the lives of others cannot keep it from themselves.  --J.M. Barrie
Look closely for the Monarch butterfly I captured

Normality is a paved road:  It's comfortable to walk, but no flowers grow.  --Vincent van Gogh

Tomorrow may rain, so I'll follow the sun.  --The Beatles

Wednesday, September 13, 2017

Kansas State Fair 2017

Bottle washing machine
Prior blogs have mentioned my connection with Isaac Werner through our mutual love of books.  This week's blog shares our mutual enjoyment of drawing.  Many pages of Isaac's journal contain drawings in the margins, including his invention at right.

At the 2017 Kansas State Fair I participated in the Plein Air at the Fair event, during which artists produce art depicting exhibits and events.  Both Friday and Saturday artists working with oils, acrylics, paper, water colors, and pastels set up working sites throughout the fair grounds.  Canvases and papers had to be marked each day, with that day's work turned in at the close of the day, to prove that the art had been created entirely during the day's event.

Lyn with "Brownie"
Each artist was limited to two entries, which were judged by a former university art professor who is currently the head of a college art department in Kansas.  Four entries were selected for ribbons--three paintings and one paper mosaic.  Photographs of the displayed art are not permitted, so I cannot show you the four pieces that were selected.  Instead, I will share my adventures and efforts.  Although neither of my two pieces was chosen, I had a wonderful time and hope to participate again.

Having seen entries from past Plein Air events, I decided to participate, along with more than twenty other artists.  Signing up gave me the perfect excuse for purchasing a portable easel.  Having never done Plein Air, I set up my easel on our porch when it arrived to experience the sunlight and breezes of working outside.  It also gave me a chance to see if I had assembled all of the supplies I needed.

I still have a carrier I used to transport files to the courthouse for trials, and I put it to work carrying my new easel and other supplies, assembled in a plastic tub which served as my table when I worked. Many of the artists made do with less to transport, using a simple clip board and sitting on the ground or a park bench.  If artists reading this blog are tempted to participate next year, your supplies need not be elaborate--just whatever works for you!  I do encourage more artist to join the fun.
State Fair Friends

I am normally a portrait artist, so the first day I chose to do portraits--of chickens, ducks, and geese.  After all, a portrait is a portrait.  My first subject, whom I named "Brownie" because he was a Chinese Brown Goose, was great fun.  I was fascinated with his long neck, and while he did not always extend his neck, he was very obliging whenever I asked.  Brownie was a bit vain and seemed to enjoy posing.

My next subject I called "Pilgrim," since his breed was identified as Pilgrim-Sex Linked.  After getting set up, I waited for Pilgrim to become calm, but he was an active duck, back and forth from feeder to water and round and round the cage.  Since it seemed he was unlikely to ever be stationary for long, I decided to only draw his head, which was usually visible above the water and feed tubs.

My last subjects Friday were two colorful bantam roosters caged side by side.  The one named "Henry" (according to his owner) was also active, but because he was small I could keep all of him in sight as he moved about.  He apparently had an artistic nature, as he seemed to enjoy adding his own water splashes to his portrait.    His neighbor was more of a sleepy head, napping often despite the constant noise of the poultry barn.

Lyn with Pilgrim
In the cages behind were two beautiful black and white chickens, the Rooster named Bud and the hen named Rose.  Their pretty young owner obviously loved them like pets, and shyly pointed out that their clever, combined names were Rosebud.  I was tempted to try drawing their complicated black and white feathers, but I had been working about 6 hours at that point and was too tired for another 2-hour portrait.  

Saturday entries had to be turned in by 3 p.m., so I arrived early to get started.  Unfortunately, the exhibits  where I intended to work were not open that early.  I headed to the dairy cattle barn to start my day until my intended subjects were available, but after sketching a particular cow, her owner took her for a bath and I had to stop.  I moved on, intending to return later but in search of a subject to do in the meantime.  I never returned to the cow nor made it to the things I had planned to draw. 

Photo credit Gauman, Hutch News
I chose one of those souvenir photo stands with an oval cut out for children to put their faces through for a photograph to take home from the fair.    With the fair ground pavilion as a background and a tree to balance the triangular composition, I thought it would be a nice, not too complicated image.  I was wrong.  All of the angles and details of the pavilion took most of the morning, and by then the Saturday crowds had arrived.  The photo stand was popular, and families would line up between me and my subject to watch their children pose.  In addition, the miniature train tracks were between me and my subject and passed by regularly.  In fact, they were so busy there were two trains running.  

Since I was working in the park, many people stopped by to watch and to visit, which I loved.  Even Lindsey Gauman with the Hutchinson News took my photo for the Sunday Paper and stopped by to get my name.  What wasn't so nice was that  as the breeze came up I realized that my position blew fairground grit right into my eyes.  I was having a true Plein Air painting experience!

Lyn's turn to pose in the souvenir photo board
On Friday I had finished 3 drawings in six hours, but on Saturday I struggled to finish 1 drawing in 6 1/2 hours, rushing to finish the tree before time ran out.  I wasn't satisfied with Saturday's work, but I chose to enter it as one of my 2 entries, along with the double chicken portraits.

I did not win any prize, but I was pleased when the judge took the time to comment specifically on my entry from Saturday when he finished speaking about the 4 winners.  He said how much he appreciated my theme of contrasting the permanence of the pavilion and the tree against the bright colors and temporary excitement of the fair, represented by the souvenir photo display.  I had been so disappointed with that work, but he had seen what I set out to depict, and I was both embarrassed by being singled out and pleased by his comments.  

The 2017 Kansas State Fair continues through Sunday, September 17, so if you have not attended this year and you are curious to see the Plein Air exhibit, it can be found in the OZ Building.  I hope some of you who may have considered participating will be encouraged to enter next year.  I had a blast!

Remember, you can click on the images to enlarge.

Thursday, September 7, 2017

The Detective Work of an Artist

Clues from old newspapers
Recently I read an article about a performance artist who found a wire recording made in the 1950s in which a family undertakes that awkward effort of acting natural as they record themselves.  Using that recording, the artist created "Say Something Bunny," which she performs in a small Off Off Broadway theater.  When she listened to this unusual wire recording, a technology that predates tape recorders, she became intrigued by the self-conscious conversations of the family, and she set out to discover who they were.  Amazingly, she traced their identities.

Clues from books Isaac Werner read
Having created her performance piece, she wanted to locate a family member to acquire permission to use the recording.  She found the only surviving family member, now seventy-eight years old.  He gave his permission and expressed his amazement in the artist's ability to track down the identities of those on the recording and to find him, saying:  "Allison should really be working for the FBI."

Clues from courthouses
The artist's partner described her efforts in this way:  "A journalist would have started with 'I'm going to find who this person is and get the story from them, but Allison got the story from everything else she could find and put it together."

You have probably realized by now why this newspaper story caught my attention.  I found Isaac Werner's journal, written in 1870-71 and resumed from 1884-1891.  No one is living from that time that I could "get the story from."  I had to be a detective and 'get the story from everything else I could find and put it together.'  Whether you are a writer or a playwright or a narrative poet or some other artist, basing your work on actual historic events, you must be a thorough detective.

Clues from public memorials
There are places to discover the secrets of the past, even when those people about whom you are writing are no longer living and were never famous.  Of course libraries are an obvious place to begin.  In my case, I knew the titles of books in Isaac's own library from the inventory of his estate sale and comments in his journal, and by reading what he read, I learned much about him and the times in which he lived.  Certainly I read books about the period--histories about the Populist Movement, biographies and autobiographies of key figures of that period, books about prohibition and specific historic events.  But, I also interviewed descendants, visited sites relevant to Isaac and the period, walked cemeteries where people mentioned in the book are buried, read old newspapers, and used the valuable information in the local courthouses from deed records and court documents.  

Isaac's journal is an amazing document in itself.  I came to know his community very well, and one of the most difficult challenges in writing my manuscript has been limiting what I can include.  As an editor told me, "Does it advance the story?  If it doesn't, take it out."  

Clues from cemeteries
My manuscript is not a diary or simply Isaac's journal.  Rather it is, as the title suggests, Isaac's story as it reveals the historic Populist Movement, its leaders, and its impact on America both at that time and to the present.  I was unable to include the scandalous story of the runaway elopement or the tragic story of a 15-year-old girl's murder and the lynching of her killer, exciting as both were.  They were both historical to the period and the region, but they did not advance the story of the populist movement that I had chosen to tell.  A detective must follow the clues that will solve the case he is handling, and an artist must advance the story she is telling.

You can enlarge the images by clicking on them.  To read more about "Say Something Bunny" you may go to the June 26, 2017 issue of the New York Times and read the article "The Detective was a Performance Artist" by Elizabeth Vincentelli.