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Art, Unbidden

Thursday, February 28, 2008

Look at the carved cattle trails, all converging on the dark heart of the barn. The little outbuilding I'll tell you about is the half-white one in front of the barn. The house Clarence and Opal lived in is on the left side of the road.

Any city person who moves to the country has outbuilding envy. We city folk tend to put up houses, garages, and not much else. Country folk had an outbuilding for everything. Maybe that's why their houses were so tidy and homey. They weren't trying to cram everything into them the way we do. They had outbuildings for all their crap. For instance, I dream of a potting shed, where the stacks and mounds of huge planters and tiny pots that spill all over our tractor and bicycles could find a real home.

The beauty of country outbuildings is the way they fit into the farm and the landscape. I can't bring myself to buy a pre-fab shed just to have a shed. But this little garage/shed/barn has a beauty that's hidden from the main road. The former owners of this farm were Clarence and Opal M., who I had the pleasure of getting to know just a little when I stopped to talk with them about the brilliant blue bluebird houses Clarence had constructed and put on fenceposts around the house. They were enormous, perhaps 9" square, and painted bright blue because Clarence thought that might help attract bluebirds. Of course, they were full of house sparrows. I gave Clarence a couple of little Gilbertson PVC boxes, which house sparrows don't much like, and he put those up, too. Got bluebirds in 'em! Clarence was in his nineties by the time we met. I'm so glad I stopped to talk with him that day.

Clarence and Opal are gone now, and the bluebird boxes are gone, too. But the new owner of the little farm has saved, at least for now, one thing I prayed would survive the change of hands: Clarence's art.
I'm glad I got a chance to admire this in front of Clarence, to show him my paintings in the copy of Enjoying Bluebirds More that I gave him, so he'd know I wasn't just blowing smoke when I told him I loved them. Here's a closeup of the pinto's head…
This painting has the same quality, to my eye, that Inuit art displays--an elegant reduction of unnecessary detail, a fluidity and grace. It makes me want to paint a horse on our barn. But my horse would look much more like a real horse, and in that something precious and irreproducible would be lost. I simply know too much about how to paint a horse "properly" to do a nice barn painting. How I wish I could ask Clarence to come paint a horse on our garage, because I'd much rather look at his art.

Another surprise awaited around the corner: a frieze, depicting a pair of horses and a foal, now almost lost to the elements:
The square chips of paint gave it a mosaic-like quality, and looking at these paintings I saw something ancient, as ancient as cave art: the desire to capture beauty, however well or ill-equipped the artist. Clarence surely captured something in these paintings, and through his interpretation gave them another layer of beauty.

Inside the barn, another surprise awaited: some folk art by kittens.
The cat and her kittens, like Clarence and Opal, are doubtless long dead, but I am here on this February day, rinsed clean by the traces they have left.


I want to say yes! yes! I thought cave art before I read your impressions. But beyond my 'me too' - let me say simply: this was poetry.

He is an artist who still lives through you. Wonderful post and sweet tribute to a man who cared.

Lovely tribute, Julie.

You are an inspiration to look at the world with an eye for appreciation of beauty in the unexpected. Oh to be able to express oneself as you do. I see it, I feel it but to express it...thud.

This is exactly the kind of post that drew me as a regular reader. It is beauty and sheer poetry. This is your strongest strength; to show us beauty in unexpected places much as you did in the previous post.

Thanks for returning to the Julie I love and respect the most.

How often do we say "I'll stop later when I have more time?" and then never have the time until it's too late. Clarence must have been quite a fellow. Thank you for sharing him.

Posted by Granny Sue February 28, 2008 at 7:45 PM

Beautiful post. Thank you for sharing this.

What a special way to remind us all of the inner artist inside us. Clarence, no doubt, never considered himself an artist, but look at how his art is now showcased long after he's gone. So sweet Julie.

A wonderful and moving tribute. Through Clarence, you've reaffirmed that there's something special in everyone. Thanks!

I love this post and I especially love the thought about having an outbuilding for all the crap...oh, wouldn't that be loverly? Love, love, love the painted horses. Thanks for sharing your story.


I love this kind of folkart. People who wanted to record a bit of their surroundings, their love, and happiness. Beautiful post.

Julie, do you make your Gilbertson PVC boxes or do you buy them?

I LOVE reading you. It makes me remember that what I do all day (and tend to stress about) is just a job that makes possible all the things I do outside of this office building -- like birding.

Karen, I order my Gilbertson boxes 14 at a time (a case) from Steve Gilbertson, 35900 Dove Street, Aitkin, MN 56431. About to haul off and order another case, but I have to think about whether I have time to put together the poles and predator baffles this spring. It might have to wait until next, rats. I want to put some up in safe clearings in the woods and see if I can get me some nesting titmice to paint!

I'm glad you all like Clarence's art. There are wonderful old people leaving us every day, and taking all that knowledge, wisdom and joie de vive with them.

I really enjoyed this post and appreciate how you celebrated Clarence art...I think we often drive by these places and think similar thoughts as we rush by on our busy day...glad you take the time to slow down and preserve these images. The images remain, the elders are leaving us.

I'm so glad that you got a chance to know Clarence and, even more, that he knew you enjoyed his work and his way of doing things. His horse mural is beautiful - I hope the new owners keep it.

Great. Now I have outbuilding envy too.
I'm constantly surprised at how many little jewels (like the horse paintings) get passed over.

Wow wow wow, Zick. This is amazing.

And you're right about the out-building envy... I have barn envy in a bad way, as the next-door neighbor's barn just taunts my lack of barn. We do, however, have an old chickenhouse connected to what is now a two-room office.

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