Volume I, No. 4, Summer 1974




VISITING DAISY COOK

As told to Jana Low, Gina Hilton and Jenny Kelso

Edited by Jana Low

Hello, everyone, come on in. I'm Daisy Cook and this is my husband, Warren. We're so glad to have you here. We're real interested in your magazine and sure enjoyed the one you sent us. You seem to be writing what I've been painting--stories of Ozark life. That is what all my paintings do, tell a story. Do you want to see some of my pictures? They all tell a story just as I remember about things that happened to me years ago.

You see here in this picture she's picking a chicken and the cat's coming up and smelling of the feathers, He thinks he might find a piece of chicken in there some place. This piece of paper here is to singe the chicken with. I've about finished with this one. (picture # 1)

This picture reminds me of one I wish I never sold. But I have sold several I wished I hadn't. That one was picking the geese. I remember I used to go back in the pen and catch the geese and bring them in to my mother. She was real careful pulling the feathers, you know, so she wouldn't hurt them, until one old gander pinched her leg. And after that she just jerked them off.

I started painting when I was sixty-one years old and now I'm seventy-two. I'll tell you how I got started.

I have five children and I taught high school for about eighteen, nineteen, twenty years, I don't know how many. Then before I retired while I still had one daughter at home, I knew that when they were all gone from home, I'd be by myself. I decided I wasn't going to be a bored old lady, so I took up hobbies and tried a lot of different things.

But none of them lasted long. My daughter was in the University up there in Columbia [Missouri].

She wrote and said, "Mama, I want you to try oils." She had taken some oils in college because she graduated in recreation. I said, "Oh, Martha, I can't paint. I can't draw anything." "Well," she said, "I think you might like it, Mama." So I said, "Well, if you're through with your paints I'll try." I'm too scotch to waste anything, so I told her, "Bring them home." She's never seen them since. I started painting and I've just enjoyed it so much.

I had a little class. I teach one class a week on Tuesday mornings, which is all the classes I want. I really enjoy it. And I like it when I just teach women. I don't teach children because I don't teach it technically. I just teach them to relate about the colors.

I entered an art show down there in a little town by Fort Worth [Arkansas] and I got three awards and I only entered five pictures! I was tickled to death because I didn't know a thing about it, you know. So every time I'd get an award, why I'd run in to the telephone and call my husband and tell him. Everybody got to laughing. Me too.

I didn't make any bones about it. I was tickled. So when I got home Warren had some red tissue papers and spread them up the steps for me. That's the red carpet treatment.

After I started painting I didn't have any other hobbies. Now by the time I get through painting, and I do a little macramé and I go see the children and keep my home, why that's about all the time I have. Anyway, I have thought lots of times I might take up pottery, but it involved getting too much, so I just haven't done it. But I know I would like it.

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Picture # 1

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A very common question people ask me is how long it takes to do one of my pictures. That is a very hard one to answer. It isn't the size of the picture, it's whether I put just a few or several people in it. That decides the time. Sometimes if I have thought about it long enough before hand, I might paint one in two weeks. And if it's a small picture, like the picture out there of the woman giving her baby catnip tea (picture # 7), I painted that one in little more than a week. You know it all depends on how much time you put in...how many hours a day. You just can't give a very good answer. And I... lots of times I'll think about a picture for three months before I'll ever paint it. And then sometimes I'll just paint. This one of picking the the feathers on the chicken...in fact Mr. Cook said to me, "You haven't painted a picture of plucking chickens yet." He went out to his shop and made me a stretcher. The next day I put canvas on it and started painting. So sometimes, you know, I do it real sudden like. But most of the time I think about a picture quite a long time before I paint it, deciding what I'm going to put in the picture.

I paint from memory. It's a lot more fun to paint from memory than it is to look at something. And it's fast because you don't have to stop and look. You can just think and think while you're painting. And if you start on a picture, you remember something and you start on it, then you think of something that will lead you to remember something else. I don't try to paint anything I don't experience, because, see how could I remember it if I didn't experience it? Oh, once in a while I'll paint a still life, but I don't enjoy them as well.

Picture # 2

See here in this picture I remember how we used to curl our hair and painted this picture. (picture # 2) Here she is curling her hair. You didn't go to the beauty parlor. You just took the curling iron and stood up before the glass and curled it yourself. One time my aunt was doing that and my father came in from the field. He was smoking and he slipped in behind her when she didn't know he was there. He blew up some smoke and when she saw smoke coming up...oh, she nearly jerked that wad of hair out. She thought her hair was on fire. We all laughed but she didn't think it was funny.

I've kept track of my paintings, but I haven't counted them. I'd just guess that there's probably a hundred and fifty because I sold Crowder College thirty-five and I have at least fifty here. Then I sold a lot of them at Silver Dollar City. So I'm just guessing at how many I have.

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Now here is an old log barn we had on our place that had some boards nailed on it, too. (picture # 3) Our hens would steal their nests out, you know, hide their nests away. And lots of times we'd find them up there in this old barn. See there's a bale of hay in there where they make the nest. This is I [on ladder], and this is my brother, and this my sister. It took three of us to get those eggs down. He'd get back there in the loft, reach in to get them, then lay them down, and then I'd take them up and drop them in my sister's apron. She'd put them down in the basket.

Picture # 3

Here's one that I like very much. I've got it fastened on the frame, but Warren made the frame for it. By the way my husband makes all my frames, not all of them, but nearly all. He gets behind sometimes in the summer time especially when he's farming. That's why I got so many of them not framed. He'll get them one of these days when it snows or rains. I'm real lucky he can do that. See in this picture (picture # 4) she's making medicine. You see the mortar and pestle there and then the scales over there. And this little boy's got a mortar and pestle, too. You know what he's grinding up? He's grinding the lining of a chicken gizzard. That's what they gave for bad stomach trouble. And she's putting in some sugar and bottling it.

One time my mother told me that if I set the old hen and took care of her, I could have her little chickens. So I set this old hen and went down there. Of course in this picture (not shown) I'm seeing if she's doing all right. One day I went down there and what do you think she was doing? She was turning the eggs. I thought she was going to break them and eat them, because sometimes they did that. You know, if they happen to accidentally break one, then they'd get started to eating the eggs. I thought she was eating them, so I ran to the house and told my mother what was happening. I wasn't a very big girl and she just laughed and said, "Oh, she's turning her eggs. She has to turn them about twice a day." Well, I never could figure out how the old hen'd know when she got them all turned.

Picture # 4 - Daisy Cook's painting recalls making homemade medicine.

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Then we got an incubator. An incubator is where you set the eggs and keep them warm. Now here's where they're hatching chickens. See the two incubators? (picture not shown) Well, the way we knew when we got the eggs all turned over was we put a cross mark on the egg and turn the cross mark up or the cross mark down and that way you could tell you got them all.

My father and his brothers had a threshing machine and this is it. (picture # 5) This is my favorite uncle. Somebody asked me, "How can you remember all those things?" Well, I remember because he let me sit out on the barrel here. I can just feel that old engine shaking. Whenever he'd get ready to start up, he'd always give it a little whistle, you know, and my father would holler and say, "Everybody get back!" We'd hear that old belt being slapped at. And if you'd get on it, it would catch you and that'd be just it. I never could understand the fact that my father wouldn't let us climb over the fence. He said, "That's what I built that gate for. I don't want you tearing my fence down." But when the threshing machine came, if the wind was in the direction so it'd blow it and catch the straw on fire, why he didn't hesitate to cut that fence down and roll it up. I just couldn't understand then, but I understand it now. That grain was our bread and butter.

Right here is a picture showing girls washing their hair. (not shown) Now you just ought to wash your hair in rain water caught in an outside barrel like this. Of course you could use lye soap, but I never did. Our mother never used lye soap on our hair, but we always had rain waiter to wash it in because it made it so soft. Oh yes, sometimes we'd use an egg on our hair instead of soap. You break an egg and rub it all on your hair all over and then wash it. It gave kind of a shine to it, especially to people who were blond. And I was a blond one time.

Picture # 5

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This picture is back when we had the Model T. (back cover) The horses were scared to death. You see the man driving the car is over just as close as he can be to the other side of the road. But the woman had to get out and hold the horse anyway, and they start backing up and almost turn the buggy over. There was a woman here the other day and she was telling about when she was with her boyfriend and he had kind of a young horse, and this was the first time she'd been out with him. But she knew the horse was scared of cars. And when they met one on the road, she said she jumped clear out of the buggy and got over the fence.

Oh now, back when I was a girl, why we didn't have formulas for the babies. And before the mother's milk came, why if the baby got hungry and went to crying, we'd go out and get us some catnip weeds and make some catnip tea, put a lot of sugar in it and feed it to the baby till it satisfied it and quit crying. You see what time it is? (picture # 7) She's got the oven door down to keep her warm. And she's giving the baby some catnip tea. See how happy she is even if it is late at night because this is her first baby. But she knows how to take care of it. Let me put just a little more paint here on the baby's blanket.

This is the way I made my first money. (picture # 6) We milked and sold the cream. See this little girl is getting a pitcher full of cream. The cats are already given theirs. In this one the man's turning and he's straining milk. Yes, I made money and bought myself a watch.

Picture # 6

Picture # 7

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This is Saturday night on the farm. (picture # 8) Now this is the way Grandma used to take a bath. The boys all took a bath in one tub full of water and we girls took a bath in another tub full of water. And when you started to carry it out, if you got out of step, why it splashed down on your clean dress and socks. And it was always the other one's fault. They got out of step, I didn't.

Now that other picture I showed you is the way Grandma took a bath when she was a girl. This is the way Granddaughter takes a bath now. (picture # 9) You see she's got all pretty things and a colored bathtub and everything. She doesn't have to carry her water and get her stockings wet.

Here's an old kitchen. (not shown) They're getting ready to go to a big dinner or to a church dinner or something for the next day. You see one's making a pie and the little boy is getting some dough. She's baking cookies and has just taken out a big pan full of bread, eight loaves. Lots of times with the big families you'd bake eight loaves of bread. We had what we call everlasting yeast. You baked about every other day with that to keep your yeast nice and fresh. In fact,

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I have some of it in there in the refrigerator right now. I make a couple of loaves of that kind of bread. I used to make it all the time, but now just once in a while as a treat. She's taking up the butter, you see, out of the cedar churn and the little boy is eating some bread and butter. I think he's just got home from school and he's hungry.

Here they're logging, getting the logs ready for the sawmill. (picture # 10) You see here they've got a certain kind of a vehicle. You don't call it a wagon. I don't know what you call it, but anyway it's a two wheel thing that they jack those logs up and haul and chain them and drag them out.

This is Mr. Cook's picture. (not shown) He went out, you see, and drilled wheat all day and the horses are tired. See how this one's leaning over to help him take off the harness. They really do that. Old horses will. Not a young one. A young horse stiffens up, won't do anything, but the old horse relaxes. They always roll out in the dust, you know, I guess to scratch. We used to say every time one rolled over it was worth a hundred dollars. And if they rolled over three times they were worth three hundred dollars. Of course, that wouldn't be worth much today, but that was a lot of money back then.

A woman who studied art in Boston would come to visit me. Every time she'd come she'd say, "Daisy, didn't you ever do anything but work?" All my pictures were about the work and chores we did. I said, "Oh, yes, yes." So the next time she came back, well, I had one painted of the barn dance. I wanted to prove to her that we did something besides work in those days. (picture # 11) You see, here's the musicians and there's the caller, and there they are dancing. These two here are coming over to have some lemonade out of an old stone jar. And then here's Grandma and Grandpa. Now they don't dance anymore, but they can pat their feet and clap their hands. One thing about this is technical. I didn't know it but I've learned it since. You see the circles here? I've got three circles, the dancers and two groups of people sitting here. I just painted that out as an interesting technical thing.

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I also did this one about fun down at Grandma's. (not shown) My grandmother, her house  was...oh, the ceiling was a ten foot ceiling, you know. Real high. Boy that stairway looked real long. We used to get up and slide down that stairway. We're getting pretty noisy by now because you see she's got a feather duster after one of us. You see we've got our wraps hanging out in the hall. Maybe it's Christmas. Maybe it's a birthday dinner or something. We used to have a lot of fun down there. Then here is the hymns we sing. See they gather around the organ, and one woman, now she doesn't play the melody, she just plays the chords and then we can sing any song we want to. Then here's our tenor singing. I just know he sings tenor. Grandma and Grandpa know the chorus and they stop and sing with them. The children are playing and this little boy spilled the popcorn. We used to signal ring on the telephone if somebody didn't get to come, if they were sick or something. We'd leave the receiver hang down so they could listen in.

Picture # 11 Old and young alike enjoyed a square dance.

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This is not a very complicated picture, (picture # 12) but...anyway I enjoyed it. I had to do something so I painted it. See the lamb? The sheep doesn't know enough to take him into the barn where it's warm and dry. They'll have their lambs out there in the cold and sometimes they'll get kind of stiff and cold. We have to go out and carry them in. We put a blanket around them and warm them up behind the stove and give them some warm milk.

This little boy you see is checking and getting traps in winter. (picture # 13) He's caught something in that and we hope it isn't a skunk.

I see you are looking at how I sign my name. That stems from high school days. When I was in high school, I'd sign my picture with my name that way whenever I'd autograph any of the kid's books. So that's kid stuff, but I use it now on all my pictures.

I've certainly enjoyed visiting with all of you today. Do come back again. Mr. Cook and I go to the Southwest to spend the winter with our children while it's cold here. But we'll be back by next spring. Come back and see us and bring some of the boys. Mr. Cook would enjoy talking to them about the old ways of farming.

Picture # 12

Picture # 13 - Checking rabbit traps in winter.

Photography by Robert McKenzie

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Copyright © 1981 BITTERSWEET, INC.


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