Volume VII, No. 3, Spring 1980




If I Can Do It, Anybody Can

A VISIT WITH NORMA BOHANNAN

Edited by Jill Splan


I've lived in the Ozarks, near Hartville, Missouri, all of my life, and proud of it, too. I think it's a beautiful place in which to live. I've always liked it. To me it's the greatest place in the world. It's a beautiful place to live.

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All my life I've drawn, but really I didn't do any painting until the year of sixty-six. Everybody said I was like Grandma Moses. I never had an art lesson. My best teacher has been copying other artists' work.

I guess I was around eight years old when I knew I really loved art. I visited my grandpa quite a lot, and I saw there a snow scene with a boy and dog bringing a flock of sheep down a snowy trail at evening time. I was quite fascinated with it. I learned then that you didn't paint snow white, but there were lots of shadows of blues and grays.

I always used up my tablets at school to draw on, so I was always in need of a new tablet. I was never so happy as when Dad or Mom would buy us a box of crayolas and I could color my pencil drawings. My parents didn't encourage me in my drawings, nor did they discourage me. I'd try to copy any pretty picture we had about the house and ! spent many hours at this pastime. I just drew. It was girls in pretty dresses copied from catalogs mostly to start out.

When I was a child, we raised our own hogs and had an old smokehouse where we would cure our meat. When we got ready to butcher, my uncles and grandpa would come and help. We enjoyed the day together, but I was glad when it was over for it was quite a job, and we children had certain chores to do. Everybody worked, but it was rewarding as we had fresh meat to eat. We usually butchered three hogs.

We'd kill a beef occasionally, and after Elbert and I married we killed one about every year as we raised cattle. Sometimes it's hard to eat those you've bucket fed and raised on the farm,, but you get over being sentimental after awhile.

After I married I didn't have time to draw, and I guess my interest lessened somewhat. We had a dairy farm, so that didn't leave much time for things like that. We milked Guernseys in an old barn, using a milking machine. Not having a Grade A barn we had to sell Grade C milk. You could milk several cows in an hour, and I milked them by myself when Bert worked away from home. Their milk was so rich, and I made a lot of butter, but it was a job I disliked. I used a Daisy churn. You'd turn a crank, which turned wooden paddles and this agitated the cream. Sometimes it was easily churned, depending on the sourness of the cream.

"No matter what the season, there is always beauty." Norma Bohannan paints and writes poetry about the Ozarks. (by Mark Engsfberg)

There were salt blocks for the cattle, but the deer came and licked the blocks also. They need salt just like a cow. We could see the deer even though it was early and they just looked like black silhouettes. We see deer at our home here occasionally down in the fields grazing early in the morning. Graceful creatures, and always wary.

There was a spring near my childhood home, but it didn't have a springhouse over it. My father built a rail pen around it, and inside that he built a large bottomless, wooden box with a hinged lid you could raise and lower. In there we kept our milk, cream and butter to keep it cool. In those days, we at least, had no refrigeration. The little spring ran on out to where the stock could come and drink, and then ran on to join Elk Creek.

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"A couple of years before I started painting from memory I drew my childhood place. It is of the home where I grew up. it's about dilapidated now and not much of it left, but I still like to go and look around."

The minute I moved here to this house on Elk Creek, I felt at home. When the leaves are off, I can see my childhood home from here. It's right up the hollow, and the little branch that comes running down by the side of the road comes from a spring on that place. I wasn't born there, but I grew up there. I don't remember my other home because I was only two or three when we moved from there.

After we sold the cattle, my husband worked at Fort Leonard Wood, and I was alone a lot. He knew I liked to draw,

and he suggested I get some art supplies and try to paint, so I chose water colors. I thought starting out that way would be easier, and I used canvas skin paper which would take oils or water colors. I hadn't really done anything like it except years before when I did some drawings with crayolas and one painting with water colors, but that had been so long ago I'd forgotten what technique I'd used, so it was a new experience. Of course those first paintings weren't good, but Bert bragged on them and that encouraged me. I used water colors for a long time. Then he thought I ought to graduate to oils and canvas. For a while oils were strange to work with and I didn't think I did as well. Now I enjoy working in oils more than I did in water colors. I think water colors lack the rich color and sheen that oil colors have, although I like both mediums. I haven't tried acrylics yet, but know that I would probably like them, too. I now use canvas panels altogether and they work out much better.

I've always liked to try to paint. Some people just take the brush and go with it, but that wasn't the way I learned it. First you have to have an inspiration, of course. I love nature and I'm always looking at trees, clouds and things getting ideas for my paintings. I usually sketch them first from photographs, or on location, and then I start to paint.

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Wayside Things

by Norma Bohannan

I

Old trees, staunch Osage orange, and gnarled oak
With mosses climbing upward from their roots,
The locust with her pinnate, lacy leaves,
And wild cherry, teeming with lush black fruit,
Adorn the wayside, and in cooling shade
A grateful passerby pauses to rest.
The rocky roadbed seems less rough and lone
When flagrant banks and fencerows flourish best.
The somber cedar, towering to the skies,
Its needled branches with blue berries set
Are kissed by breezes till a fragrance rise
That's fused of cedar and wildflower as they met.

II

The brambles run along the sagging fence,
And grapevines o'er hang, cascading to the earth,
While buckwheat spills o'er antiquated posts--
They feel that theirs is a high and noble birth.
They loathe the poison oak down at their feet,
The poison ivy as she nearby twines,
And scorn the smart-weed for her saucy airs,
The ragweed for her beggarly designs.
The vain sumac yearns secretly for frost
To turn her vesture into a fiery red;
With pomp and glory she would then be queen,
Not knowing that her leaves would soon be dead.

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III

The wild rose, queen of all the wayside flowers,
Is quaint and blushes midst her hedge of thorns,
While the blue chicory, envious of the rose,
Becomes withdrawn and knoweth not her charms.
The wandering-jew meanders down the road;
Her tiny florets shine like myriad stars.
Not knowing where to stop, she wanders on
Like nomads roaming restlessly and far.
Near the hollow the shaded cool moist earth
Teems with moldy rotting leaves and mushroom;
Here violets rest in mounds of emerald green,
And drowsy ferns nod lazily at noon.

IV

By the wayside berry vines creep year by year;
Each in her season brings forth a harvest rare,
And oft the wayfarer stops for sweet repasts,
As haunting odors rise upon the air.
In sheltered nooks the tangled gooseberry grows,
A network maze of prickly briers and leaves--
Spring blossoms lately lined each bristled spire,
Now set with berries, trembling in the breeze.
On bright June mornings down the dew-drenched byway,
Where touched by sun the glossy black-caps shine,
The long, arched canes swing and sway untrellissed,
Stiff rivalry for the cultured garden vines.

V

In hot July, the laden blackberry vines
Trail criss-crossed o'er the dusty roadside bank,
And in the lengthening shades of closing day
A weary traveler loiters and gives thanks.
To ripen latest is the elder bush;
She serves the birds a very choice wine,
And when in bloom the buccaneering bees
Sip nector fit for Roman gods, so fine.
The walnut and the hazel grow here, too,
And cast their nuts when the hoar-frost is come,
And squirrels make haste to beat the cold and snow
To fill the hollow oak tree they call home.

VI

Giant trees, shrubs, weeds, vines and berry briers,
And flowers that wandered through the garden gate,
Grow by the wayside, and bathed in summer rain,
Are beautiful to behold in their wild state.
Unsown, untilled, unpruned by visible hands,
Yet grow spontaneously, and no one reaps
Till frost puts forth his scythe and brings them low,
And they droop and wither and lay down to sleep.
Then when geese fly north and follow in their wake
Warm rains to wet again the soft brown earth
And free the brooks, long fretting to be gone.
When robins come and say that winter's done,
Then the wayside buds will bloom in gay rebirth.

--Norma Bohannan

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It's hard but you gradually learn by your mistakes. It usually takes me about two weeks to do a painting, depending on the size, and of course that isn't working steady. Some days I have worked six hours without a break, but other times I get tired and have to have several breaks. It's work like anything else is.

I can lose myself when painting. Time really flies, and it's time to stop and fix the evening meal before I know it. I'm reluctant to stop, especially if it is going quite well.

One painting I did was one with some cattle which I painted about six years ago. It's of an old spring down on this farm where we've been for thirteen years. I sketched it from an upstairs window in autumn when the aged oak tree was all russet, brown and gold. The springhouse is gone now, so the family is glad to have this remembrance. You can see the line of trees bordering Elk Creek.

Another painting I took from a photo of our old farm where we used to live. It's the dairy farm, and it had some of our cows in it and our old dog Kim. I tried to make them kind of like our cows.

I have made over sixty paintings and have given most of them away. Some of them are very sentimental. A couple of years before I started painting, I drew from my memory my childhood place. It is the home where I grew up. It's about dilapidated now, and not much of it left, but I still like to go and look around. The house was originally a two roomed log house with oak weather boarding over the logs. Later my father built on another room which he built of oak frame, using oak planks for weather boarding. The spring that I have mentioned was west of the house and down a steep little hill where my dad would drive the team to drink at noon. My dad passed away this last year in May, and that was just a little memory of him. It's not much to look at unless you've loved the place. It means a lot to me because I know every tree. I see a lot of mistakes in it now that I've learned a little more about drawing.

Above--"A neighbor girl calls this Bo's corner, for Bohannan," explains Norma Bohannan to Mary Day and Jill Splan. Below--"This is a painting of a spring on Bill Massey's land and some of his cows. He said it looked like I could have straightened his shed door." (-by Mark Engsberg)

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I have many hobbies besides painting. I crochet and have many house plants. I enjoy watching plants grow both inside and out. I love to read, particularly poetry. I also like to try to write poetry, but have never had any published. The first ones I did were in about 1932, and I've written them off and on ever since, whenever I get an inspiration. You have to be pretty much inspired. I'd write down little verses, but the ones around thirty-two were the first ones I saved. Most were memories and that sort of thing. There's one about the Gasconade River. I moved with my family to the river farm in 1939 and lived there until I was married. I spent many happy hours around the river and so loved the beauty of the place. Years later I was inspired to write about it, and in the poem I tried to describe the river and the different sounds. Sometimes it was a continuous roar, or sometimes it was a soothing murmur, which you could hear from the farm house. It's actually a narrative poem, with a lot of memories of the place and my family.

There's another poem called "Wayside Things" which is very Missouri. It's about growing things we passed along the road leading down to a certain hollow. Bert said they were only weeds to him, but I found beauty in them, and was inspired to write about them.

One of my favorite poems is one about our old dog Kim. He's the dog in the painting of our Guernsey farm. I wrote it for him after he died. We missed him a lot. He was really good with cattle, much better than the dog we have now. Kim helped with the cattle in any way he could, often without being told. Sometimes I believed he knew the cows by name. One cold, snowy night we were putting some of the cattle in the barn and I told him to bring old Bunny. He went running around the side of the barn and absolutely brought her out of that whole bunch! It probably just happened, but made us wonder.

The dog we have now is a pretty good watch dog, but that's just about all he's good for. He does like to go with me when I go out about the farm, and he's always at my heels. I'd miss him, but as far as stock's concerned, he'd just as soon forget them.

I just started out painting pictures and writing poetry, and I have been at it off and on ever since. My husband says I overdo all my hobbies except painting, and he doesn't think I do enough of it. He really likes for me to be creative.

A lot of people say, "I wish I could paint like that," and I'll say, "If I can do it, anybody can do it."

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Copyright 1981 BITTERSWEET, INC.


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