Wisconsin in Watercolor: The Life and Legend of Folk Artist Paul Seifert, by Joe Kapler, is a superb 2018 art book from the State Historical Society of Wisconsin. The extensive spread of the fascinating and beautiful Seifert paintings would be reason enough for a lover of art to search out this volume. Add in the wonderfully researched and written story of this illusive gentleman and his life’s work and you’ve a double treasure.
There are many working definitions of art, and doubtless there will be new ones in the future. The definition that encourages me to see the clear relationship between farming and, say painting, is the one which places looking and manifesting what is seen, felt and encouraged into imagery. Photo realism as a genre has a rich tradition stretching back to Hans Holbein the Younger and Johannes Vermeer, a tradition which has challenged individual artists to discover and instill the tricky visual elements which embue the images with a living vitality. Alexandra Klimas has discovered her access to the living image.
Jim’s sculpture is preserving a nearly bygone era of family farming. When he looks at an old, worn, pitted piece of metal he thinks of its history: the ox yoke ring, a plow blade, hay rake, buggy spring. He feels emotion for them and it shows in his work. He uses lots of shovels. He says, “Years ago, if the handle broke on a shovel, the farmer made a new handle. Nowadays, most folks toss the shovel and buy all new. A cheap one for 7 or 8 dollars. Once every farmer had to be able to fix whatever broke down, especially during the Depression. They would use whatever was handy like bale hay wire. My favorite place to get metal is from a farmer who lived through the Depression. They didn’t throw anything away. It’s a treasure trove of stuff. Even if it’s broken. I love to hear the history of the piece and the animals.
Farming as a vocation is more of a way of living than of making a living. Farming at its best is an Art, at its worst it is an industry. Farming can be an Art because it allows at every juncture for the farmer to create form from his or her vision.
I believe that there exist many great practicing teachers, some of who deliberately set out to become one and others who may have never graduated from college but are none-the-less excellent and capable teachers. I would hazard a guess that many readers of Small Farmer’s Journal know more than one teacher who falls within this latter category. My grandfather, and artist and author Eric Sloane, were two such teachers.
It is a ritual of sorts. I open the tack room door and take the pair of leather bridles down from the cast iron hook bolted to the pinewood wall and set them down within arm’s reach. Our two big mules, casually chewing their morning oats, quietly watch as I get things ready. I exit the barn for a few minutes to attend to some other tasks outside and when I return, these auburn colored drafts are standing stock still, side by side in their stall, patiently waiting to be harnessed. They know.
With a professional career as a black and white artist and then as a major illustrator of the English classic children’s books – Alice in Wonderland, The Water Babies and many more – George Soper also enabled his personal passion to play a part in his artistic output by his magnificent portrayals of the working horse. His artist eye was in thrall to the power, beauty and achievement of this powerful animal which, together with the industry of all those handling the working horse, achieved so much in the agricultural and industrial development of our country, applicable in other countries also.
Bonnie Shields is a living legend in western art circles. And Bonnie is a legendary human being to any and everyone she has touched. She is perhaps most famous for her humorous portraits of mules and her beloved LeRoy in particular but anyone who knows her knows of her phenomenal depth and range. It is her seasonal paintings of spring plowing which grace the cover of this issue. She illustrated an entire year with a different image depicting each month, a series which is powerful in its design and anecdotal energy.
Her paintings aren’t the more traditional, romantic, panoramic vistas of life in the west but rather true portraits of people she knows, taken from moments in everyday life. Her main goal with her art is the preservation of the ranching lifestyle and culture and she contributes to that not just with her painting but her daily life as well. She can be found just as often riding out to help neighbors with branding and other tasks on their ranch as in front of a painting.