Thursday, October 10, 2019

Battling Abuses in the 1800s, A Series #2

Nelly Bly
Wealth had great power and influence in America in the 1800s, not terribly unlike today.  While farmers struggled to survive, in the cities there was a growing middle class, and they began to focus on issues beyond their personal needs.  Middle class urban women tended to focus on prohibition and suffrage, but other issues caught the attention of the middle class.  With more leisure time for reading, their newspapers and magazines began including articles about things outside the lives of their readers.  There was curiosity about the extravagant lives of the wealthy--their mansions, their social events, their clothing, and their power.  Wherever there is excessive wealth and power, there is likely to be abuse, and reform-minded journalists began to write about those abuses.

Newspapers began to report their scandals, sometimes exposing wrongdoing as much for increasing readership as for seeking a correction of the abuses.  Gradually, however, certain writers began investigating social abuses with the intention of reform. Most of these reporters were male, but the beautiful young Nelly Bly was among them.  Her work was even covered in the St. John County Capital where Isaac would have seen it.  In 1887 she focused on the scandal of placing 'troublesome' women in mental hospitals.

She set out to determine whether women were sometimes admitted to these hospitals because they were unconventional or inconvenient rather than being mentally ill.  Further, even if there was mental illness, Nelly wanted to see how these women were treated.  With the approval of her editor, she faked mental illness and was admitted to Bellevue Mental Hospital, where she personally observed and endured the cruelties suffered by women who had been admitted to get them out of the way.  It was a daring way to investigate actual conditions, but she gained release and published a series of articles in The World newspaper that brought public attention to the abuses.  Later, her information was published as a book, and her reporting made a difference in correcting the mistreatment of women.

Also in Isaac's time, Henry Demarest Lloyd published Wealth Against Commonwealth, an expose revealing the corruption of the Standard Oil Company.  A few years later, but prior to Isaac's death, McClure's Magazine was formed, and in addition to articles about general topics, they became a leading publication for exposing social abuses.  Later, Willa Cather joined McClure's to cover the arts.

The early 1900s were the highpoint of what came to be known as muckraking journalism.  Next week's blog will include some of the familiar names known for their exposure of abuses in American business and society.   

Wednesday, October 2, 2019

Battling Abuses in the 1800s, A Series, #1

One of Isaac's favorite authors
Among the first things that appealed to me about Isaac was his love for books.  I have written about that in this blog before, but this series goes beyond prior posts.  A good place to start is to understand Isaac's (and the populist movement's) belief that education was essential.  

As a young druggist Isaac had read Adam Smith's Wealth of Nations, but when he read the book as a homesteader trying to make a living breaking sod for farming, he realized that what he had learned from reading Smith as a merchant had been interpreted differently from his reading as a struggling farmer. 

I have discovered from observing quotes posted online that words I interpreted to mean one thing are sometimes construed to mean just the opposite by someone else.  We all respond to information based on our own experience and the bias we have.  As  Carlow Ruiz Zafon wrote in The Shadows of the Wind, "Books are mirrors:  You only see in them what you already have inside you."

Isaac was a serious scholar and own this title
Another book that Isaac read was Edward Bellamy's Looking Backward, the story of a wealthy young man struggling with insomnia, who is hypnotized to help him sleep, but like Rip VanWinkle, the young man awakens years later to a completely different world.  I had read the book years ago because it remains on many reading lists as a classic.  At that time, I read superficially, seeing it simply as an interesting tale about awakening in a changed society.  However, when it was originally published, people struggling to survive economically read it as a sort of guide to what could be a more equitable society if social changes were made.  The book was so popular during Isaac's time that Bellamy Clubs were formed around the world to encourage the sort of changes represented in the novel.

Edward Bellamy, author
Isaac also read Henry George, most famous for writing Progress and Poverty, which advocated Land Rents rather than taxes on land.  It would have eliminated owning land for speculation or investment, prohibiting the wealthy from acquiring and holding land to manipulate prices.  Collecting the land rents would, according to George, have been simpler than collecting taxes on production from the land, and would not have penalize successful farmers.

Farmers believed in the importance of learning, and they pooled their money to buy books.  Isaac gifted many of his books to their common library and built a cupboard at the school house where their books were stored.  I agree with Zafon that we see in books what we have inside us, but I also believe reading lets new light into our minds.  If we only read books and other material that reinforce what we already believe, we shut out the illumination of new perspectives.

Next week's blog will look at other books of that period with a different focus more aligned with urban issues.

Wednesday, September 25, 2019

State Fair Ahs! and Wows!

Photo Credit:  Cindy Moore
I cannot begin to tell you how many "Ohs!" and "Wows!" I heard over my shoulder at the 2019 Kansas State Fair.  As I drew, people crowded around me.  But, I was not the one who drew the crowds nor were the "Ohs!" and "Wows!" for me.  They were for the oversized pumpkins and watermelons!

Last year for the Plein Aire at the Kansas State Fair, I had chosen what I thought would be a quiet corner near the giant melons where I could be out of the way when the doors opened for people to enter the Pride of Kansas building.  It is a popular building, especially because everyone wants to watch the butter sculpting.  But, I had no idea how popular the giant produce would be.

Photo credit:  Larry Fenwick
Last year taught me better.  People love to see the huge pumpkins and melons, and although I wanted to draw the scarecrows, I knew to expect crowds of people eager to see the pumpkins and melons.  This year's display was especially attractive, with the entries resting on straw rather than the stark concrete and wooden pallets of prior years.  The scare crows in the background completed the setting, although there were only three entries in 2019.

Last year I had done a quick portrait of one of the scarecrows, but I had not chosen that drawing to enter in the competition.  I had enjoyed drawing him and had decided to draw a more complex interpretation of the scarecrows at the 2019 fair.  I was a little disappointed to find only three entries but stuck to my plan.
Drawing from 2018

I chose a corner between the honey display and the melons, and I did not set up my table and easel, instead using only my lap and a drawing board to reduce my presence to as small a space as possible, and it worked fairly well.

I chose to imagine a composition with the scarecrow on the hay bail and the scarecrow behind her as a couple.  One young girl studying my drawing was confused that it didn't look like the actual exhibition.  When I told her that the scarecrows snuggled at night, after all the people were gone and the building was locked, she was only more confused, and I admitted that I was only teasing.  She was not satisfied and told me that nice girls don't tell lies.  Her grandmother leaned over to assure her that I only meant a joke, but the girl was very displeased with me.  Oops!

Scarecrows and Watermelons
The pumpkins and melons weigh hundreds of pounds and definitely fascinate people.  Aside from the "Ahs" and "Wows" the most frequent comments were questions about whether the fruit inside would be good to eat, imagining what a feast they could have, and wondering how they were grown.  One man told his son, "We could just eat the heart of that melon and not have to fool with the seeds!"

I must confess that one lady standing behind me said a soft "Wow."  I ignored her, assuming she was referring to the melons.  Again, I heard "Wow," this time a little louder, and I glanced back at her and was told, "You are doing a wonderful job."  I replied, "Thank you.  I though you meant the melons."  She assured me that she was impressed with my scarecrows.  I decided that single "wow" was quite enough for a days work, competing against the giants around me!

You can Google 'Giant Pumpkins' and 'Giant Watermelons' to learn more about the size, seeds, and cultivation of these giants.  One of my favorite children's book illustrators, Wendell Minor, has written a children's book titled "How Big Could Your Pumpkin Grow?" for younger children.  Although it was published in 2013, you may still be able to find a copy if your youngster was excited by the giants at the fair.  An adult book you might enjoy is Susan Warren's Backyard Giants, The Passionate, Heartbreaking Quest to Grow the Biggest Pumpkin Ever, published in 2007, in which she writes about a passion she calls "...a charming corner of American life, as quirky and delightful as the big pumpkins themselves."

If you would like to see my drawing of the 2019 Kansas State Fair Scarecrows, you can continue scrolling down to last week's blog.  Remember, you can click on the images to enlarge them.  

Wednesday, September 18, 2019

Why I Enjoy Plein Aire Painting at the Fair

Photo Credit:  Cindy Moore
Many people at the State Fair are surprised to see an artist painting or drawing, or even this year at the 2019 Kansas State Fair, an artist sculpting in stone.  Among the subjects artists depicted were ducks at the lake, merry-go-round  horses, midway scenes, fountains, all sorts of livestock, crops, and even scarecrows.  The scarecrows were my selection, along with a white rabbit.

Photo Credit:  Larry Fenwick
Neither of my pencil drawings received an award, but the judge, Naomi Ullum, was wonderful, taking the time to comment on every piece entered for judging, and finding positives in her critiques, as well as pointing out specific ways to improve the work.  I believe I benefited from her comments, as I'm sure that others did as well.
Photo Credit:  Larry Fenwick

However, the critiques and contact with other artists, even the possibility of winning a prize, are not the primary reason I enjoy Plein Aire Painting at the Kansas State Fair enough to confront the challenge of limited time, heat, (or last year's rain), transporting my supplies and equipment, listening to the squawking, crowing, and (to be polite) unpleasant odor of some of my models, (such as Miss Lucy the pig that I sketched this year) or other inconveniences of Plein Aire Painting.  Such things are simply the anticipated challenges of the plein aire experience.

I am sharing the photographs in this blog to explain why I look forward to participating.  It's the children who stop to watch and ask questions.

Photo Credit: Larry Fenwick
(c) Lyn Fenwick, work in progress
Once, I was a volunteer at some now forgotten fund raiser where my assignment was a booth with  white plates that could be decorated.  I don't remember if the plates had designs to complete or what materials were used to decorate them, but I have never forgotten one little girl.  She was with her grandmother, and she had walked by my booth more than once, asking her grandmother to buy a ticket for her to decorate a plate.  Finally the grandmother agreed, and the little girl began her decoration with such excitement.  Her grandmother watched the child's eager beginning, but quickly spoke up.  "Now, dear.  You can draw better than that!  Stay within the lines."  The child's happy face crumpled, and slowly, with little interest, she colored in a few areas and announced that she had finished.  Even that did not please her grandmother.  "But you aren't finished," she said.  "You haven't colored in all the spaces."  The little girl said she didn't want to do any more, and they left my booth with a plate that had pleased neither of them.

Photo credit:  Cindy Moore
I hope I never again see a child, eager to draw a picture or paint a plate, being told to stay within the lines.  I participate in Plein Aire at the fair for the children.  To answer their questions.  To praise them when their parents say how they love to draw.  To explain when they ask 'why I did this' or 'how I did that.'  To say 'Of couse you can' when anyone says "I can't draw," whether it is a child or an adult--but especially if it is a child.  So many adults say, "I can't draw a straight line," but aren't straight lines irrelevant in most drawings!

This year at the fair, one little boy had been standing quietly beside me, watching me draw for quite a while, so finally I stopped and turned to him.  He still couldn't find his words, so eventually his mother leaned over and said, "He wants to know if you can tell him how to learn to do that."  He nodded his head.

Photo Credit:  Cindy Moore
Immediately, I replied, "Yes, I can," thinking quickly what to tell him.  I said, "When you get home, take a plain piece of paper and draw something.  Do the very best you can, and when you finish, get another piece of paper and draw something again.  Whenever you can, keep doing that, and each time you will learn something.  You will keep getting better each time, because as you draw you will be learning."  He listened and nodded as I spoke to him.  "Can you do that?" I asked when I had finished my impromptu advice.  He was smiling and nodding with such enthusiasm that I was sure he would sit down with a clean piece of paper soon after he got home.

His mother asked if he would like for her to photograph the scarecrows he had watched me draw, so he could do a drawing of them for himself.  He nodded.  As they were about to leave, I asked, "If I come to the fair next year, will you find me and tell me what you've been drawing?"  He was beaming as he nodded.

Photo credit:  Larry Fenwick
There are more stories I could share, but never will you hear me tell a child to stay within the lines.  That little boy, the children in the photographs in this blog, and the many others who stopped to watch as I worked, are why I go to the fair to participate in the Plein Aire competition.  It's why I hope to go next year and more years after that.  If I can inspire one child to be curious about art or if I can encourage one child to feel good about what they draw, then I will have my blue ribbon from the State Fair.  And next year, I will be watching for that little boy.

Remember, you can enlarge the images by clicking on them.

Wednesday, September 11, 2019

State Fair Jelly

After three straight years of late frosts spoiling the sand hill plum crop, 2019 had a surprise for me...and for a lot of others!  There had been a late, light frost, and I assumed it would be another year without plums, but I was wrong.  Was I ever!!

Our pasture, which is unplowed prairie, has not been grazed since my father's death, and the sand hill plums have nearly taken it over.  I picked from the road one morning, where bushes have grown through the wire fence, but the next day my husband and I drove into the pasture to an area of abundant bushes with especially large, ripe plums. My husband had been scouting for the best plums, and without needing to push our way into the bushes amidst all the thorns, we were able to pick enough plums before the morning sun became oppressive.  Since protection from the thorns requires long sleeves and jeans, it gets very hot to pick later in the day.

I made six batches in order to have jelly of our own for a few months and jelly to share with friends. I was the Production Chief, but my husband was the Chief of Shipment and Delivery.  We shared not only with local friends but also with out-of-state friends who had never tasted sand hill plum jelly, and  I used every jelly jar I owned.

We let local friends know that our pasture had abundant plums to share, but this season plums could be seen in pastures and along many roadsides, and only one couple took us up on our invitation to pick.  I heard that some of the local grocery stores had run out of pectin because so many customers were making jelly.

State Fair Jelly still on the drawing board  (c) Lyn Fenwick
But, this blog is not really about making jelly to enter in the state fair.  The title of this blog post, "My State Fair Jelly" does not refer to entering a jar of my jelly in the Kansas State Fair.  Rather, my jelly entry was made on paper.  Last year I entered a pastel painting in the Professional Artist competition, and I enjoyed the experience so much I decided to do that again.  When I draw or paint I must have a reference, either an actual model or still life arrangement or various photographs from which to work.  Sometimes a single photograph is sufficient, if I know the subject(s) well enough to capture more than the photograph shows.

I began going through my reference images for ideas, and I came across a photograph I had taken a few years ago of canning supplies ready to make sand hill plum jelly.  I decided to create a still life painting using an arrangement of canning supplies.  Unfortunately, I had already discovered that, after my last canning using my Mother's beautiful 1940s canning equipment, I had put her equipment away somewhere that I can't remember.  My own 2019 jelly was made using modern, less picturesque equipment, so I had to rely on several photographs of Mother's equipment, with variations and additions that included a jar of my own jelly, mugs from my collection, and a 'church ladies' cookbook, altered by my imagination but representative of the type of local cookbooks produced during the past mid-century.

State Fair Jelly framed (c) Lyn Fenwick
I finished with time to get my pastel painting framed, and off to the 2019 Kansas State fair it went, the name for my entry suggested by my husband.

No prize for my work, but I still enjoy the experience of having a goal, showing my work, and participating with other artists.  I confess, it was rather disheartening to hear the judge declare strongly, "I hate still lifes," during the critique of his selections for awards.  One of those winners was a still life, so obviously he was willing to override his "hatred."  There were many wonderful  works by talented artists, and what appeals to all of us is subjective.  I didn't make it back to the Fine Arts exhibit to observe the reactions of visitors, but I'm sure that many of the paintings were appreciated by those who toured the exhibit, and that is, after all, the pleasure we artists enjoy having given others.

Remember, you can click on the images to enlarge.

Thursday, September 5, 2019

A New Location for Art at the Kansas State Fair

(c) Lyn Fenwick,  Title:  Fresh Yellow Squash
This week the 2019 Kansas State Fair opens, and once again I have an entry in the Professional Artists display and competition.  Last year was my first year to participate in that category, and the pastel at the top of this page was my entry.  I didn't bring home a prize but I had fun entering.

In the meantime, my six portraits of characters from Willa Cather's My Antonia were selected for publication in the Willa Cather Review, Vol. 61, No. 2, Spring 2019, together with my essay describing how I searched Cather's novel for descriptions of each character to be sure that my imagined portraits were consistent with Cather's descriptions of each of the six characters.  I have a dislike of illustrations done for books that do not honor the descriptions of the author whose book is being illustrated, and I did not want to commit the same disrespect by straying from Cather's descriptions.  I gifted a copy of the Spring Willa Cather Review titled "After Antonia" to the Filley Art Museum in Pratt, Kansas, and I have been delighted when visitors to the museum have told me they enjoyed my portraits and essay.  I am particularly pleased when they tell me it has encouraged them to read My Antonia, either for the first time or to reread it after several years.  I was especially delighted to learn that Mrs. Filley is a long-time Cather fan and had received her copy of the Spring Cather Review with my portraits inside!

Lyn's "models" at the 2017 Plein Aire
The success of my acceptance for publication in the Cather Review encouraged me to enter the Kansas State Fair Professional Artists Show again.  Many of you who follow this blog are also fans and collectors of  a water color artist with ties to Pratt, and Darren Parker has shared with me his intention to enter the State Fair Professional Artists Show with one, or possibly two, of his watercolors.

I am writing this blog before the judging for the particular purpose of letting readers know that the Professional Artists' works have been moved to a different building.  You will not  find the Professional Artists work nor the Plein Aire art displayed in the Oz Building as it has been in the past.  (This change also moves the photography display.)  

Lyn drawing at the 2018 Plein Aire at the Fair

To view the art, go to Lake Talbot East/West located on 23rd Avenue, between Fort Hays Blvd. and Fort Leavenworth Blvd.  For some of you with 4-Hers,  you may identify the two buildings as being across from the 4-H Centennial Hall, the two buildings formerly the Boy and Girl Scout Buildings.  The Professional Art will be in the former Boy Scout building and the Plein Aire (and photography) will be in the former Girl Scout building.  The announcement of prizes for the Plein Aire will be at 6 p.m. Saturday, Sept. 7, and will remain on display through the remainder of the fair.

The Plein Aire competition requires artists to create their work on the fairgrounds, inspired by subjects they can view at the Fair.  They must do the work only at the Fair and within the hours specified--on Friday noon to 7:30 p.m. and on Saturday 7 a.m. to 3 p.m.  Visitors to the Fair are encouraged to watch for artists at work and to pause for a visit if they wish.  Children in particular seem to enjoy watching and asking questions.  Artists work in a variety of media, from acrylics and watercolor to pencils and pastels to paper mosaics or any other creative medium they wish.  No more than two entries can be submitted for judging by any one artist, although an artist my wish to complete additional work from which to select their two entries.  

Maybe I will see some of you at the Fair, and I hope you visit the new location in the former Boys and Girls Scout buildings to view the art on display.

Remember, the images can be enlarged by clicking on them.  Look closely for the cat and mouse in my "Fresh Yellow Squash" pastel painting.

Thursday, August 29, 2019

Threshing Machines

Although we have often visited Red Cloud, Nebraska for the Willa Cather gatherings, we have always been too busy with the Cather events to take the time to visit the local Museum  in Red Cloud.  During the 2019 visit we decided to correct that omission.

I am always on the lookout for information related to the era of the Populist Movement, and while the Thrashing Machine pictured in this blog is a bit later than Isaac's time, it is an example of the advances in farming equipment occurring during Isaac's lifetime.  In the late 1800s, wheat was being harvested by machine in Isaac's community.

You may see the verb thresh as well as thrash  used in reference to the process of harvesting, and Thrashing Machine as used in the label shown above is actually the less common spelling, although both are used.

The process of threshing removes the seeds from the stalks and husks by beating the plant to make the seeds fall.  Isaac mentions using a buffalo wallow (apparently with some kind of canvas over the sandy soil) and walking his horses over the stalks to  remove the grain he raised.

At the museum in Red Cloud we had the opportunity to stand beside the giant thrasher in these photographs, so massive it dwarfed everything around it.

With the early threshing machines of the 1880s the grain had to be harvested separately, by hand or machine, and then fed into the thresher.  Isaac described the mowers that might have been used to cut the wheat.  Until threshing machines were invented, the threshing process was primitive.

The equipment was a simple flail, a stick with a shorter stick attached to the end which was capable of flexing or flailing about as the laborer beat the grain out of the stalks.

Threshing Flail
Obviously, the process was very strenuous for the laborers.  However hard the work was, and despite the low wages and high taxes workers paid, the arrival of the mechanized threshing machines led farm workers to strike.  Thousands of men who had been employed as farm laborers were put out of work, which put these former workers on the brink of starvation, resulting in what was called the Swing Riots.  Despite the obvious suffering of the laborers, the English government dealt harshly with the strikers, hanging nine of them and transporting 450 to Australia.

As with many new inventions, what was seen as a welcome mechanical advance for humanity was for others the end of their means of livelihood.  The improvements to the early threshing machines led to steam powered machines that could harvest the crops in the fields, and the threshing process advanced from a pile of grain, straw and chaff to belts and blowers that separated the waste from the grain.  

Now the monster machines that harvest the crop can pour the cleaned grain into a bin pulled along beside the combine, while men in air conditioned cabs move around the field, the harvesting guided by GPS.  Although far fewer farm laborers are needed, hiring those workers capable of managing the technology can be a challenge.  So far, humans are still needed in our technologically advancing world!  

Remember, you can enlarge the images by clicking on them.  

Thursday, August 22, 2019

A Lost Lady's Husband

Among my favorite places when we travel are the homes of authors.  Our road trip may have a different ultimate destination, but I will check to see if our route passes near the former home of a writer I admire.  Many of the homes of America's greatest authors have been preserved for visitors, and it is fun to see how they lived and where they wrote.

But perhaps no place is more interesting than the town of Red Cloud, Nebraska, where Willa Cather spent her youth and to which she often returned for visits as an adult.  This blog has shared pictures of the many buildings in Red Cloud that have a direct relationship with her stories and novels.  For serious Cather fans, however, there is also the opportunity to learn about the actual residents of her time that Cather used as inspiration for her characters.  An obvious example is Annie Pavelka, the model for Antonia.

Our most recent trip allowed me to focus on the character of Captain Daniel Forrester in A Lost Lady, described in the novel as a contractor of railroad construction for Burlington.  Rather than describing the plot of the novel, I will use details about Forrester and his lovely younger wife as examples of how Cather built characters and plots from actual residents and events in her home town. Items displayed in the Webster County Museum provide direct references to Cather's practice.

Chapter three describes the arrival at the Episcopal Church of Mrs. Forrester:  "...a low carriage drove up to the door.  Ben Keezer was on the front seat, and on the back seat was a lady, alone, all puffs and ruffles, and a black hat carrying a parasol with a carved ivory handle. As the carriage stopped she lifted her dress to alight; out of a swirl of foamy white petticoats she thrust a black, shiny slipper."

Cather's local inspiration for Captain Forrester was Captain Silas Garber, and the carriage pictured above is the carriage that once belonged to Garber.  How easy it was for me to imagine Mrs. Forrester stepping gracefully from this carriage just a Cather wrote.  "She stepped lightly to the ground and with a nod to the driver went into the church."

Her husband was described by Cather as looking like "the pictures of Grover Cleveland.  His clumsy dignity covered a deep nature, and a conscience that had never been juggled with.  His repose was like that of a mountain.  When he laid his fleshy, thick-fingered hand upon a frantic horse, an hysterical woman, an Irish workman out for blood, he brought them peace; something they could not resist.  His sanity asked nothing, claimed nothing; it was so simple that it brought a hush over distracted creatures."  The portrait at right is of Capt. Silas Garber, Cather's inspiration for Forrester and one of the founders of Red Cloud.  When Webster County celebrated its 80th year, he was among those men honored as past and present leaders.  (See the framed newspaper page displayed below.)

Although it is generally accepted that Garber was Cather's inspiration, his is a good example to illustrate that her depictions were not direct portraits.  Silas Garber served in the Union Army, following which he moved to California and engaged in livestock trading.  He arrived in Webster County, Nebraska in 1870 as a homesteader and general store proprietor, quickly becoming involved in politics.  In 1871 he became Webster's first Probate Judge, and the next year he was elected to the Nebraska House of Representatives.   In 1873 he was named Registrar of the United States Land Office in Lincoln, a powerful position.  In 1875 he was elected as a Republican to the first of his two terms as Governor.  A distinguished man, but never a contractor building railroads for Burlington as his fictional counterpart was.

The novel is titled A Lost Lady, and while Mrs. Forrester is the central character, the relationship she had with Capt. Forrester is pivotal to the story.  "Curiously enough, it was as Captain Forrester's wife that she most interested Niel, and it was in her relation to her husband that he most admired her.  Given her other charming attributes, her comprehension of a man like the railroad-builder, her loyalty to him, stamped her more than anything else.  That, he felt, was quality; something that could never become worn or shabby; steel of Damascus.  His admiration of Mrs. Forrester went back to that, just as, he felt, she herself went back to it." (Conclusion of Ch. VI)

Although I have sometimes referred to Red Cloud as a Cather fan's Disneyland, it is not a false place of artificial reality.  It is a real town that nurtured the development of Willa Cather as a great American author and that gave her memories of real people and places around which to craft her stories, not to write in a historically accurate depiction but rather to capture the time and place using her memories but employing her imagination and her gift for writing to create something greater.  The sources for her imagination are what remain for visitors to explore in Red Cloud today.  

If you haven't read A Lost Lady, I recommend it.  And if you have read it in the past, I recommend reading it again.  The thing about great writing is that it remains fresh and reveals something new each time you read it.  
(Sword belonging to Capt. Silas Garber, Union Soldier, and inspiration for Capt. Forrester in A Lost Lady.)   Remember, you can click on the images to enlarge them.  

Thursday, August 15, 2019

Who Belongs in National Statuary Hall?

Prior to the movement to include more women among those proud representatives of their individual states among the bronze and marble statues in the National Statuary Hall, only nine women were so honored.  Soon, two outstanding women from the Great Plains will join those nine earlier women to be installed--Nebraska's Willa Cather, the first woman to receive the Pulitzer Prize and Kansas's Amelia Earhart, the pioneering female pilot.

The women there before them are a group to be admired, some whose names remain familiar and others whose achievements have begun to fade from American memories.  All of them deserve mention.

Frances E. Willard (1839-1898) was a pioneer in the temperance movement and one of the organizers of the Prohibition Party in 1882.  She served as President of the Women's Christian Temperance Union and was President of Evanston College for Women from 1871 to 1874.  She represents Illinois and was the first woman to be chosen for Statuary Hall.  Less well known but perhaps more significant is Esther Hobart Morris (1814-1902) honored by Wyoming.  Orphaned at 11, she supported herself as a seamstress and businesswoman, involving herself in the anti-slavery movement and women's right to vote.  Her influence led to Wyoming giving that right to women in 1869, along with control of their own property and equal pay for women teachers.  Elected Justice of the Peace in 1870, she became the first woman to hold judicial office in America.

Representing Minnesota is educator Maria Sanford (1836-1920), called at the time of her death "the best loved woman of the North Star State."  She championed women's rights, education of blacks, adult education, and was a founder of parent-teacher organizations.  In addition to education, she also led the conservation and beautification program of Minnesota.

Another educator, Jeannette Rankin (1889-1973), honored by Montana, was a social worker and advocate for women's suffrage, as well as a rancher, lecturer, and lobbyist for peace and women's rights.  Probably she is best known for her political positions, as the first woman elected to the U.S. House of Representatives in 1916 and in 1940.  She supported the cause of Peace throughout her life and voted against America's entry in World Wars I and II.  She was the only member of Congress to oppose the Declaration of War on Japan.

Colorado's choice was Florence Sabin (1871-1953), a pioneer in science and public health.  She graduated from Smith College and received her medical training at Johns Hopkins Medical School, the first woman to graduate from there.  Her medical career included many achievements, and for the state that honored her she came out of retirement at the request of the Colorado governor to chair the subcommittee on health that modernized the state's public health system with the "Sabin Health Laws."

Two Native American women have been honored by their states.  Sarah Winnemucca (1844-1891) of Nevada and the Paiute tribe, used her skills in languages to assist both the government and Native American people.  She gave speeches, published the first book by a Native American woman, and started a school in which children were taught in both their native language and English.  The second Native American, Sakakawea (ca. 1788-1812) from North Dakota, served as interpreter for Lewis & Clark.  North Dakota honored her as "traveler and guide, a translator, a diplomat, and a wife and mother."

Washington chose Mother Joseph (1823-1902), who entered the Sisters of Charity at the age of 22.  In 1856 she lead five missionaries to the Pacific Northwest where she employed her skills as an architect and artist in the construction of eleven hospitals, five Indian schools, seven academies, and two orphanages, supervising the construction and raising the funds.

Helen Keller
Finally, perhaps the best known woman among those in the National Statuary Hall is Helen Keller (1880-1968) honored by Alabama.  Her statue depicts Helen as a young girl at the water pump when she first understands the connection between her teacher Annie Sullivan's signing in her hand and language.  Although deaf, blind, and unable to speak, she communicated by touch, Braille, and a special typewriter to become a writer and supporter of social causes.

Of particular notice to me as I studied the women honored in Statuary Hall is the common element of service to others.  It was not their personal achievements alone that caused their states to select them but rather their great service to others.  In the push to achieve Equal Visibility Everywhere (EVE), I hope the continuing honors in nominating women will focus on their service to others, as well as their popular fame and personal achievements.

Another observation is that most of the states that have honored women have been from the Western half of America!  Several were born and educated elsewhere, but their service was welcomed and honored by states in the West.  Perhaps the fact that as settlers immigrated westward, women were often partners with husbands and brothers in farming and business.  Women played an active role in the Populist Movement, particularly farm women, while urban women and women in the East were more involved in Suffrage and Women's Rights.  Perhaps, laboring side-by-side on the farm or in other endeavors gained quicker recognition and respect than parades and speeches!

Willa Cather championed women of many types in her writing--Antonia Shirmerda in My Antonia, Alexandra Bergson in  O Pioneers, Thea Kronberg in Song of the Lark--, inspiring readers with fictional heroes as well as inspiring women with her own achievements as an author.  Amelia Earhart showed women not only that they could fly planes but also that just because men had dominated many professions women were not incapable of mastering those professions as well.

Other states are now considering whether to replace earlier statues with individuals from more recent times.  Two governors have already signed legislation to replace male figures with females, with plans to move the statues of these largely forgotten men to a respectful location elsewhere.  In some cases of removal, the men are being replaced because they were chosen for values no longer respected.

The selection of replacements should not be based exclusively on gender, but it does seem appropriate that states give more attention to the ladies than some have in the past!

Thursday, August 8, 2019

Amelia Flies Into Washington

Amelia Earhart at Lundeen Studios
It has been a long flight for Amelia Earhart but at last she will  reach her destination!  In 1999 the Kansas state legislature voted to replace the two 19th century statues in the National Statuary Hall.  The subjects of the two new statues were chosen at that time--Amelia and Dwight D. Eisenhower.  The funds for Eisenhower's statue were promptly raised, and his statue was installed in 2003.  Fundraising for Amelia did not proceed so quickly.

An organization called Equal Visibility Everywhere, EVE, stepped in to help.  This nonpartisan organization is dedicated to placing more women among our nation's symbols and icons, and they worked with people in Atchison, Kansas, Amelia's hometown, to complete the raising of $300,000 needed to complete the design and get Amelia Earhart to Statuary Hall.  In 2010, a spokesman for EVE estimated that with Amelia's popularity the necessary funds could be raised and the statue completed in 3 or 4 years.  Obviously, that prediction was overly optimistic, but the important result is that despite the delay the dream was realized.

An impressive group was formed to review the proposals from sculptors from across the country, which included representation from the National Women of Arts Museum in Washington, D.C., the Wichita Art Museum and the Spencer Art Museum at the University of Kansas; both the Festival Chair and a businessman from Atchison, Kansas; the Chair of EVE; Amelia's niece, and the President of the 99s, the famed International Organization of Women Pilots.  Thirty-two sculptor proposals were received and the top five were invited to send additional information, including a maquette of their proposed sculpture (a miniature clay sculpture of their proposed design).

George and Mark Lundeen of Lundeen Studios in Loveland, Colorado were chosen, and they were tasked to produce not only the statue for the National Statuary Hall but also its twin for the Amelia Earhart Hanger Museum in Atchison, Kansas.  The image above is from the Museum website showing the straightening of the clay statue in preparation for casting. 

If you missed last week's post about Nebraska's choice of Willa Cather to represent their state in the National Statuary Hall, you may scroll down to the post below to read more.  Bravo to these Great Plains states for adding two important American women to the inadequate number of women in  Statuary Hall.  Long may they remain there to represent the achievements of two gifted and brave women from the plains!

Thursday, August 1, 2019

Bravo to the Ladies

The ladies have been too long neglected in the National Statuary Hall and that has finally been noticed!  I am particularly pleased by Nebraska and Kansas, who are both in the process of sending two of their great ladies to Washington!!

My first in this 3-part series is particularly exciting because I have seen the maquette, or small version of the future full sized sculpture, to be added as one of the two representatives of Nebraska in the National Statuary Hall.  I am also pleased to have met Creighton University sculpture professor and renowned midwestern sculptor Littleton Alston, who revealed the maquette at the 2019 Annual Spring Conference.  

More than 70 artist-applicants from throughout the United States were considered by the selection committee prior to choosing Sculptor Alston.  About his choice settling upon how he wished to depict Cather, he said that he wanted to capture her intelligence and the twinkle in her eyes, "standing, as if surrounded by nature, at home in the Nebraska prairie."

Littleton Alston introduces his Willa
 As Littleton Alston gently lifted the drapery covering the unfired clay sculpture, the ohs and ahs of Cather scholars and fans filled the room.  Several of those scholars, so learned about details of Cather herself as well as of her writing, whispered excitedly about the walking costume the sculptor had chosen for Willa.  'That is the attire she wore in New Hampshire to walk up the mountain to the tent that had been set up for her as a private place to find the solitude for writing,' was whispered in varous versions.  Even the walking stick she used has been included in the maquette.  

Sculptor Alston studied many photograph in making his decision about the depiction of Willa Cather, and perhaps he saw a picture of Cather wearing her New Hampshire hiking attire.  However, the choice does seem especially appropriate for her arrival in Sculpture Hall.  The beautifully beaded evening dresses she loved for attending the opera would not have been appropriate for the serious opportunity of representing Nebraska in the halls of Congress.  I hope Willa would be pleased.

Lyn with Littleton Alston
The new statues of Willa Cather and Ponca Chief Standing Bear will replace the former Nebraska statues in Sculpture Hall of Julius Sterling Morton and William Jennings Bryan.  (Of course, Bryan was the People's Party Presidential nominee when they chose to join the Democrats in nominating Bryan for President.  Isaac would surely have cast his vote for Bryan.) 

Next week will continue with the new statue representing Kansas.

Thursday, July 25, 2019

The Emotion of Books

A few of the book titles Isaac owned in similar editions
I confess.  I am still one of those who likes to hold a book in my hands when I read--preferably a beautifully bound hard cover book, although I need to put a pillow in my lap to hold the book because my arms get tired.  I read when I walk on my treadmill, although paperback books are preferable in that case, because they are lighter.  I have a smart phone, but when I encounter a word whose meaning is unclear, I still prefer reaching for the dictionary rather than looking up the word on my phone.  Sometimes I will find something interesting as I flip pages or search down the columns of the dictionary pages for the word I am seeking.  Being in a library where real books line the walls stirs my emotions in a way that computers and smart phones cannot do.

There is something about walking into a library or a personal home with shelves of books that, for me, inspires awe.  When we visited Philadelphia, one of the sites we chose was the tour of a historic home owned by a doctor.  In his personal office were book cases filled with leather bound books, the only furniture being the doctor's desk with its chair facing a fireplace.  I don't remember any of the other rooms in that house, but the library was awesome to me.    

An edition Isaac's library would have contained
Recently we went to the annual book sale held by the Wichita Art Museum.  Donated books are sold at prices ranging from a dollar to five dollars.  The quality of the donated books lining rows of tables are impressive, both in condition and content.  Volunteers have sorted books into categories, and prices are shown by the colors of the bright stickers on each book's cover.  Art books and a few other books deemed more valuable are separately priced, and I could hardly resist the Thomas Eakins art book priced at fifty dollars.

However, the most exciting thing about the annual sale is the crowd!  The parking lot required a long walk to reach the museum, and the people we meet carrying bags and boxes and arm loads of books made me wonder whether all the best books would be gone by the time we reached the museum.  That was not the case.  Although we didn't arrive until after lunch on the second day of the sale, the tables remained full.

A set of books my grandparents owned
Certainly, one of the things that attracted me to Isaac Werner was our common love for books.  As a young druggist in Rossville, Illinois, he spent his money on books, writing in his journal that he believed buying books was a better investment than loaning his money to others for the interest it would earn.  He imagined building a house with a separate structure for his books, to protect his library from fire should his house burn.  When he homesteaded on the prairie in Kansas, he crated his library and brought it with him.

The discouraging

statistics about the decline in reading among Americans suggests that my feelings about books are not shared by everyone.  In 2018, Pew Research reported that 74% had read at least one book during the prior 12 months, if print, audio, and digital were all included.  Print books remained the most popular reading source, 67% having read one print book.  Between 2016 and 2018, the number of Americans 'reading' audiobooks rose from 14% to 18%.  The typical American reads 4 books a year.  Those with more education tend to read more books than those with less education.

Another research source, Statista, found slightly different numbers, although they agreed that women read more than men, and those with college educations read more that those with less education.  They compared readership by age groups, asking who had read at least one book in the past year.  Of those aged 18 to 29, 80% said they had read at least one book; those  30 to 49 reported 73%; those 50 to 64 reported 70%; and those 65 and above dropped to 67%.  Unfortunately, one book a year is a very low target to suggest significant American readers!

Wichita Museum Book Sale 2019
One-book-a-year people were not the readers that came to the Wichita Art Museum to enjoy the Annual Book Sale. I was so thrilled by the crowd that I had to take a picture.  

Wednesday, July 17, 2019

Research Rapture

Reading the 1880-1890s County Capital newspapers
While going through the clippings and notes I save, I discovered a clipping from a newspaper--probably the 'New York Times' judging from the typeset.  The essay is written by Janice P. Nimura, and she introduced me to the term "research rapture."  The experience she describes in the article is not new to me.  She describes research rapture as "the rare and ecstatic moment when you slip the bounds of the present and follow a twinkling detail into the past."  Of course, she is talking about an author doing research.

Those of you who follow my blog know about my discovery of Isaac Werner's journal and my decision that his story, and the story of the southcentral region of Kansas during the Populist Movement, should be told.  I believed that his story deserved more that simply transcribing the journal for publication, although I did transcribe it.  Rather, I began researching his community during the Populist Movement, keeping Isaac's journal at the heart of my story but expanding my quest to cemeteries, courthouses, museums,, old newspapers, photographs, state archives, interviews with descendants, visits to towns where Isaac lived, the internet, and of course, books.

Visiting the river near Rossville, Il where Isaac loved to walk
In Janice Nimura's case, she was searching for a subject, knowing only that she was interested in Japan in the late 1800s.  Her moment of "research rapture" came from a memoir titled "A Japanese Interior," which finally gave her direction to a book subject after three years of searching.

In my case, I knew I wanted to write about Isaac and the Populist Movement, but I was open to finding the best way to tell his story.  My "research rapture" happened many times as I explored Isaac and the late 1800s.  Some of my discoveries found their way into this blog, although they did not fit directly into the manuscript.  Nevertheless, they enriched my understanding of the region during that time period.  They helped to guide the direction I would ultimately take in telling history.

Visiting Isaac's Grave
I prefer reading from what I consider "real" books, not e-books or audio books but rather printed books in my own hands.  In doing my research for the manuscript, our library grew.  I read books mentioned in Isaac's journal, books from that era, locally published books about the region or specific communities (often published for centennials or other special occasions), biographies and autobiographies, documents from the period, and scholarly books.  Of course, I also searched online.

It was Nimura's comments about searching online that drew me to her article.  She wrote:  "Search algorithms leave no room for serendipity, and without that, some of the magic leaks out of the pursuit of the past.  I had to be efficient in my research; that's where Google came in.  But whenever possible, I tried to create space for aimless wandering, and every time, the story became more vivid."

Those words spoke directly to me. Nimura's "aimless wandering" may have been done online, but my wandering was not confined within a keypad, book covers, or walls.  My husband and I visited Rossville, Il and Wernersville, Pa, although there is little in the book about those places Isaac lived before coming to Kansas.  We visited his mother's lonely grave in Abilene, Ks., as well as graves of his father and siblings.  I researched the genealogy of all of Isaac's neighbors and acquaintances mentioned in the journal.  I spent days reading all of the weekly editions of the County Capital, the populist newspaper in St. John to which Isaac subscribed and for which he often wrote.  Whether this wandering ended up directly in the manuscript or not, it deepened my understanding of Isaac and the period about which I was writing.

As Nimura wrote:  "It's not enough to find every mention of a specific event, even though algorithms make it easy.  Sometimes the telling detail--the yeast that makes the whole lump rise--isn't in the headline you're reading.  It's in the gossip column on the next page, or in the classifieds tucked in the back."  In my case, the telling details may have been found in such places as an old cemetery or inside an old volume at the courthouse.  Thank you Janice Nimura for putting so beautifully into words the importance of research rapture and the unanticipated discovery.  It is what has lifted Isaac Werner off of the faded pages of his journal to bring him and southcentral Kansas back to life as farmers struggled to survive and created a political movement to help them.  
Reading what Isaac read