Friday, March 14, 2008

Art Teaches a Lesson

This is one of my favorite paintings: "The Prairie is My Garden". I will talk about it later in the post.

Yesterday, after morning chores, I enjoyed a nice long walk on our sloppy gravel road, lined with snowpiles which are steadily diminishing, thanks to the sun's influence. The piles are chunky and now resemble big, dirty boulders. A neighbor was in his tractor pulling a manure spreader in his field near the road. Sometimes in very early spring, if the fields are solid enough, farmers are able to clean out cattle sheds and haul the manure to the fields before the ground becomes too soft to drive on. The neighbor and I exchanged hearty waves; he milks Brown Swiss cows on his farm. Our fields happen to not be fit to drive in, so Husband can't do any manure-hauling, and he's a bit frustrated about that.

Yesterday afternoon was spent painting a bathroom with Stain Killing Primer to cover some mildew spots here and there. We are blessed with spacious bathrooms, which is great, but also means a large ceiling to paint. Consequently, my arms and shoulders are sore today. As my paintbrush went back and forth yesterday, my mind was digging through shelves of ideas, trying to find fodder for today's blog post.

Finally, it hit me like a bolt out of the I was standing there PAINTING.........why not post a favorite painting and discuss a serendipitous lesson I once learned about ART. By stunning coincidence, fellow Iowa bloggers Sherry and Russell, at blogs "A Feather Adrift" and "Iowa Grasslands", respectively, have been including art and related commentary in some of their recent posts. Hmm........maybe that also influenced my choice.

In the household I grew up in, there wasn't much appreciation for art, so I didn't develop much interest in art. In high school, I wouldn't have been caught dead taking an art class......that was where the "dummies" and troublemakers congregated, so I thought. To my credit, however, when my kids were growing up, I did make sure they had plenty of crayons, pens, pencils, and sheets of paper, so they could draw to their hearts' content. But, the thought of any of them having a career relating to art never entered my head. Little did I know.

Our oldest child, a daughter, began college intending to major in Exercise Science. Towards the end of her sophomore year, she phoned home one day and said, "Mom......I'm changing my Art Education." I gasped and said, "What for?" I was worried she'd never find a teaching job in the area of art......schools deleted art from their curriculum when finances were I thought.

Daughter spent the first semester of her junior year taking art classes in Leiden, The Netherlands. She was able to visit many galleries and museums, seeing famous paintings and other artwork in places like London, Paris, Rome, Venice, Prague, Amsterdam. It was a fantastic experience for her......even though 9/11 took place just two weeks after she flew to Europe......but that's a story for another post.

At the end of her senior year in college, one Sunday afternoon we drove to Central College in Pella, Iowa, to attend the Senior Art Show, where students displayed a major art project they had completed. Our daughter had painted murals at the Pella Hospital, and her display was about that.

As we were walking around admiring the students' artwork that day, I suddenly became aware of a conversation going on behind me. It was between an art professor-----he was from the Netherlands and had a very noticeable Dutch accent, my daughter having had him as an instructor in Leiden------and apparently, one of his former students. The young woman had a baby in her arms and she was rather apologetically telling the professor that she was not working at the current time, but was a stay-at-home mom. The professor piped right up, and to this day I can still hear him saying this to her in his Dutch accent: "But you do some art everyday......right? You should do art everyday. You can do art at the kitchen table."

For some silly reason, it nearly brought tears to my eyes to hear his very kind and earnest words to his former student. Right then it was almost as if a veil fell away in my mind concerning the importance of art in peoples' lives. I could suddenly see things differently. And as I've been more aware of art the past few years, and have done some reading about it.......I've learned that inspirations that come to artists are almost like prophecy.....they lead the way into new vistas for the world and humanity. That may sound impossibly dreamy, but I believe it. Creativity and inspiration come from somewhere outside of this world.

My daughter was hired by a large high school, where there are four other art teachers, thus she's experienced excellent mentoring early in her teaching career. She also retains her interest in sports, coaching girls' basketball, track, and cross-country. I'm very proud of her and happy for her.......she's able to put both sides of her brain to use! She married a business teacher/coach, who is now an athletic director; they add up to one very busy young couple. (After listening to my son-in-law describe his duties as an athletic/activities director, I tell him he's basically the "Mom" of the school district. He agrees that's an apt comparison.)

Now I need to talk a bit about the painting included in this post. As stated above, it is entitled "The Prairie is My Garden" and was done by Harvey Thomas Dunn (1884-1952). I bought a postcard with this painting pictured on it at the Corn Palace in Mitchell, South Dakota, in the summer of 1975, when I was there with my parents and siblings. Here's the information printed on the back of the postcard: "This painting portrays the Dakota pioneer woman's determination to cope with the harsh elements of the prairie, and her love for the beauty of the land. From the Collection of the South Dakota Memorial Art Center, Brookings, SD; gift of Edgar M. Soreng."

Do art everyday.........including today!!


Anonymous said...

Great Post! Funny how our kids' lives turn in directions we hadn't thought of. My oldest is studying graphic design. Who knew?

Love the postcard/pic.

Sherry said...

Excellent post Jeannelle, and lovely picture as well. I firmly believe that part of our humanness is the need and desire to be creative, and indeed we need to respond to this every day, in some small way. The trick is to give attention to things I think. It takes a bit more time, but doesn't the meal have that special flare when you add a bit of fresh parsley? We are all roaming in pursuit of what inspires us to make something that reflects us!
Thanks for reminding us all!

Mary Connealy said...

This was beautiful, Jeanelle. And very wise. I enjoyed it.

I was in the Corn Palace in Mitchell SD in the summer of...probably 1973. We only missed each other by two years. :)

Jeannelle said...

Thanks for reading and commenting!


Yes, how right you are, we change and learn much due to our kids turning out to be their own selves. One of the scariest things about parenting is knowing you're influencing a child by what you say and do as their parent. I want my kids to be themselves.



I like what you said about giving attention to things. I recently read an article about "mindfulness".....being truly in the moment, looking deeply at what is going on in the present, instead of always being obsessed with past or future. I think mindfulness is part of what it takes to allow creativity and inspiration to work in us.



Thanks for your kind words.

The Corn Palace is a cool place, although kind of corny!

Mary Connealy said...

You had to say that, right?

Who can resist. :)

Country Girl said...

Jeannelle, I love your post about art. My son is studying what I consider a form of art and that is architecture. He's actually working for a few years and then will be returning to school for his masters degree.
You do practice art every day, you know, as I do. We take photographs.

Love your painting.

Jeannelle said...

Country Girl,

Your son has high goals. Good for him! You must be very proud.

Sempringham said...


Country Girl is right. You practice your art every day you take photographs.

When I take photographs, I'm practicing, too. Maybe practicing futility, though. A thoughtful post.

Jeannelle said...


Thank you for your kind words. Its good that you have perception of yourself practicing art, too.

Though...."vanity, vanity, all is vanity", we still need to do our art!