The Mississippi River near Hannibal

  • 12” x 36”
  • Oil on Ampersand Gessobord, 2” birch cradle
  • $3900
  • Pre-publication Rate for Giclée Print on archival paper, 10″ x 30″ image size – $199, plus tax and shipping. Publication Date – September 30, 2017
  • Giclée Prints will be $395++ after September 30, 2017

The river town of Hannibal, MO is my birthplace. The spirits of Samuel Clemens and Molly Brown, among others, contribute to the character of the place, which sits nestled among the bluffs of the Mississippi River. It’s a place where stories pique the imagination, soothe, scare and tantalize. Perhaps a reason is the unpredictable rise and fall of the river which creates an uncertainty for where you might be able to stand tomorrow. The hospital where I was born is now abandoned and boarded up. My old high school is an elementary school. Things change during a lifetime. But the bluffs above the town change in geologic time, letting you know how brief our lives are and at the same time allowing for a sense of timelessness.

The painting blends many images relating to the area’s past and present. Downtown Hannibal sits in a valley at sunset with the iconic lighthouse above the river. A floodgate system now saves part of the town from the ravages of spring floods. I show workmen closing the gates as the water rises. Bison are imagined as having once wandered down the maple forested bluffs in autumn with hills made golden by falling maple leaves. A blackberry thicket grows along a bay inlet where a kayaker can harvest to her heart’s content. A water snake, turtles and catfish rest nearby while the startled frog leaps. A dragonfly hovers above the mud bank and an eagle glides above. The middle panel shows Mark Twain’s statue standing in Riverview Park at sunrise. The right panel shows the channeled, but still wide river, used as a transportation artery; the paddleboat, the barge and faintly, canoes are indicated on the eastern bank. Our culture has chosen to try to control river flooding with levees, locks and dams. Native Americans used mounds as a solution for living with the breathing river. Interpretive centers for the mound cultures can be found throughout the country. Cahokia Mounds is nearby in east St. Louis. The river is an important flyway for migrating birds indicated by the ducks headed up river. A Great Blue Heron flies above fellow birds nesting in trees along the shoreline. A Native American of the Illini tribe gazes at a Monarch butterfly that has landed on his hand. A male Monarch flutters near the blooming butterfly milkweed where a chrysalis hangs. A rabbit hides under a sumac. A couple stands on Lover’s Leap which is painted with artistic license to resemble the Birger figurine, an ancient pipestone sculpture found south near the river.

Living on the edge of the prairie offers an escape to a place of wonder. Wendell Berry, author and bioregionalist, says, “If you don’t know where you are, you don’t know who you are.”

The largest remaining stand of tallgrass prairie is found in the Flint Hills of Kansas and Oklahoma. The Flint Hills Discovery Center Foundation has created the Maps in the Schools project. The maps will hang in the schools of the Flint Hills showing their particular location and, depending on the grade level, speak to some special aspect of the place, the life, the history and/or the science.

Some (and definitely not all) of the folks working on the project are Emily Connell – Director; Annie Wilson – Project Coordinator and High School Program Educator; Pam Collinge – Middle School Educator; Molly Wold – Elementary Educator; John Dunham – Mapmaker; Laura Zimney – Graphic Designer. If you are interested in knowing more about the project, contact the Flint Hills Discovery Center Map and Education Program.

High School Flint Hills Illustration

The Flint Hills Maps in the Schools, High School Illustration

  • Original Artwork – Oil on Ampersand
  • 31” x 17.25” illustration
  • Copyright by The Flint Hills Discovery Center Foundation
    and Nancy Lehenbauer Marshall
Flint Hills Maps in the Schools, High School

The Flint Hills Maps in the Schools, High School Map

  • Print on Paper
  • 31” x 17.25” illustration size on a 48” x 48” map
  • Copyright by The Flint Hills Discovery Center Foundation
Flint Hills Maps in the Schools Project, Middle School

The Flint Hills Maps in the Schools Project Middle School Illustration

    •  Original Artwork – Oil on Ampersand
    • 31” x 17.25” illustration
    • Copyright by The Flint Hills Discovery Center Foundation
      and Nancy Lehenbauer Marshall

There are over 50 things to identify in this Middle School illustration. An ID chart will be available in the educational materials that accompany the maps.

Flint Hills Maps in the Schools, Middle School Illsutration

The Flint Hills Maps in the Schools, Middle School

  • Print on Paper
  • 31” x 17.25” illustration size on a 48” x 48” map
  • Copyright by The Flint Hills Discovery Center Foundation
Flint Hills Maps in the Schools Project, Elementary Illustration

The Flint Hills Maps in the Schools Project, Elementary Illustration

  •  Original Artwork – Oil on Ampersand
  • 31” x 17.25” illustration
  • Copyright by The Flint Hills Discovery Center Foundation
    and Nancy Lehenbauer Marshall
Flint Hills Maps in the Schools, Elementary

The Flint Hills Maps in the Schools, Elementary

  • Print on Paper
  • 31” x 17.25” illustration size on a 48” x 48” map
  • Copyright by The Flint Hills Discovery Center Foundation

If you would like to support this project, please contact The Flint Hills Discovery Center Foundation.

Marines in a blasted forest

Marines in a blasted forest

  • Oil on Ampersand Gessobord
  • 11″ x 14″
  • In a private collection

This painting and another painting titled “Vietnam Warriors” have me thinking about war and the hell that it is. Here sit four youths in a bomb crater surrounded by a splintered forest during a day of fighting. Despite the devastation,  Carl Bennett found beauty in the place expressed in this  poem, “Vietnamese Morning”.

VIETNAMESE MORNING
Before war starts
In early morning
The land is breath taking.
The low, blazing, ruby sun
Melts the night-shadow pools
Creating an ethereal appearance.
Each miniature house and tree
Sprouts its, long, thin shadow
Stretching long on dewy ground.
The countryside is panoramic maze,
Jungle, hamlets, hills and waterways,
Bomb-craters, paddies, broken-backed bridges.
Rice fields glow sky-sheens,
Flat, calm, mirrored lakes
Reflect the morning peace.
The patchwork quilted earth,
Slashed by snaking tree-lines,
Slumbers in dawn’s blue light.
Sharp, rugged mountain peaks
Sleep  in a soft rolling blanket
Of clinging, slippery, misty fog.
Effortlessly, languidly, it flows
Shyly spreading wispy tentacles out
To embrace the earth with velvet arms.

Decision makers in our government were not satisfied with destroying land and people one bomb at a time, but resorted to the defoliating herbicide, Agent Orange. Their poor judgment destroyed the lives of the local folks, soldiers and the place.  In “Young Men” Curt Bennett writes about being a Vietnam soldier:

YOUNG MEN
In quiet dignity they trudge
With only the slurping sounds
Of jungle boots sucking mud
As they carry their burden
Of expendable youth at war.
There is a poise about them,
A quality not found in peers,
A bearing common only
To young men in combat.
There is a stoic resignation,
A façade of wary acceptance,
A weariness in their movements
As they slowly walk the war.
Struggling with all its elements,
And inside, struggling with themselves,
For just below the surface,
They keep the well-known secret,
The haunting cowardice common to all.
Twenty-four hours a day they walk the line,
Living up to the reputation,
Assuming the swagger, the hard line,
Their casual indifference to death
That masks that deep seeded fear of dying,
The overwhelming urge to break and run,
The paralyzing instinct to freeze or hide!
Praying silently in secret
That whatever happens they won’t look bad.
And that is why they are at war,
Where they would rather be
Then face the shame of not going,
Of being accused of not having “it”,
To uphold that fragile concept of honor,
With their reputations on the line.
And they proudly carry their reputations,
For that is all that remains of their dignity,
Even if it means they must die for it.
GOOD MORNING

They shuffled down in noiseless file,
Gaunt apparitions whose hollow eyes
Stare blankly out from sunken sockets,
Whose swollen tongues crack scaled lips,
Scab sores ooze pus and swarming flies,
Through dirty, soiled flak jackets.
Assholes flame dysentery, brown fluid trickles
The crouchless trousers where jungle rot
Reddens, chafes and burns with each step.
Ripped jungle boots ring-bleached salt-sweat
Through rotting socks encasing fungus feet
They endlessly plod, gray ghosts of dawn.
Silently they pass, eternal warriors
Towards their unknown, to their death and hell.
Whispering shadows blending with the foggy light
In the ancient ritual of men marching to battle,
Quietly they slide away merging in the bush,
Disappearing into the mist of time.
Copyright, Curt Bennett

Today, many leaders in the US government have forsaken statesmanship for being party politicians, acting on behalf of the party funders rather than to the benefit of the citizenry, the land, the water, the earth as a whole. The big picture which includes the interrelationship of earth’s species and systems is ignored. So we must do what we can, consume less, recycle, grow a garden, plant a tree, study the night sky, breathe deeply, make friends, make peace in our time.

Cornfield in Winter 002

Cornfield in Winter

Moonrise Hill

Moonrise Hill in the Flint Hills

In a recent mailing from the Land Institute, there is introductory material for a 50 Year Farm Bill that has been submitted to our Sec. of Agriculture in Washington, DC. After reading the proposal, I recalled “Cornfield in Winter”, which was painted decades ago. The heavy harvesting equipment had cut deep ruts in the foreground. No ground cover has been planted to protect the soil from erosion. I consider this a tragic scene. Various folks made some money and little thought was given to preserving the soil, fossil fuel use and the cost associated, toxins in soil and water, etc. in this technology led model of farming. In my “Corn Rhythms” post I tell of working on a corn detasseling crew along I-70 in the early 1970. I have, to date, never seen any other crop but corn grown on that land. That’s 37  years! When a friend was writing a play on water and the settlement and history of Kansas (which inspired my painting “Ogallala Siren”), he asked an area seed corn farmer if he could shoot some irrigation footage to use in his set design. The farmer refused, showing, perhaps, that he gives some thought to his farming practices. He’s just “getting his”, before preservation practices change. Current practices should support crop diversity, healthy soils, appropriate crops for the area and strict water conservation.

Contrast “Cornfield in Winter” with a Flint Hills prairie painting. This land was saved from the plow due to its shallow soil and for that reason remains one of the last remnants of tallgrass prairie in the world. The prairie is providing the laboratory for the Land Institute’s research. Their purpose ” is to develop an agricultural system with the ecological stability of the prairie and a grain yield comparable to that from annual crops.”

The 50 Year Farm Bill is a proposal for a gradual, systematic change in the way we grow our food using 5 year farm bills as mileposts.  Check out the Land Institute’s proposal, contact the powers that be and help turn agribusiness back into agriculture.  The Land Institute’s director, Wes Jackson, states, “The social stability and ecological sustainability resulting from secure food supplies will buy time as we are forced to confront the intersecting issues of climate, population, water and biodiversity.”

Ogallala Siren

June 9, 2009

Ogallala Siren
Ogallala Siren

  • Oil on Canvas
  • 72″ x 24″ diptych
  • $7900
  • 30″ x 10″ image size digital prints – $395 plus shipping
  • Contact the artist.

My neighbor was writing a play about water in western Kansas beginning with the Mennonite settlements in the 1800. Most of the water in western Kansas is underground in the Ogallala Aquifer. The play’s first readings offered inspiration and this painting developed. One of several veins of story found in this work is the Greek myth, The Odyssey, in which Odysseus plugged his sailors’ ears with wax and had himself tied to the ship’s mast so he could hear the deadly Siren’s song.  This Ogallala Siren‘s lure is so powerful that there is nothing for it, you must have what she offers. It is your only truth. She is giving you what you need now, to hell with the price that might be paid.  In the painting, she is presenting you with an empty glass of water while holding a cheeseburger on a plate of golden corn. Water is so cheap that we use the aquifer to grow corn in country suited to prairie or dry land farming. The western Kansas farm likely raises genetically modified corn for biofuel or to feed to beef, which the cattle have difficulty digesting. The mythical siren has the moon nimbus behind her head and crop circles in the background soil. A seemingly endless supply of water flows from her robes. There is no blame placed on ancestors who took advantage of the aquifer’s resource. But now we know much more about the tenuous nature of the aquifer and the value of it. Flying over western Kansas and eastern Colorado the  ubiquitous crop circles dot the land horizon to horizon. Irrigation techniques have improved, but the Ogallala Aquifer’s limited supply of water should cause us to think critically about how the Aquifer’s water  is used. Genetically modified crops and mono-cultures are also important topics for discussion.

A Water Story: In 1985 my family attended a Wilderness Society Camp in and around Rocky Mountain National Park. I signed up for the water program, which began in the tundra and followed water down the mountain to Estes Park, CO’s water treatment plant. During the program we were asked how much water we used in a day. Only two people in the group of 20 could answer. One gentleman lived in northern California and carried in his water to a secluded forest home. The other gentleman was an eastern CO farmer who used more water in a day than the city of Estes Park used in a year.

Writer, Julene Bair, has a new book out about the Ogallala Aquifer titled “The Ogallala Road”. Viking Penguin Press is the publisher.

Let's See What Happens

Let’s See What Happens

Today Maxx, Naomi and I fed fish in the pond, waded down Rock Creek, balanced on logs and watched a snake sunning. It was exhausting good fun. When Rob returned from taking them home, he gave me a hand drawn heart and said it was from Maxx and Nomi. I’m rewarded.

The picture: As an amateur woodworker, I’ve learned that making frames is no easy task. The beautiful mahogany came from a friend and the glass bead inserts (look hard at the frames’ bottom horizontal) are something I’m experimenting with. Nomi marbled the background paper and she and Maxx added their hand prints. The picture and story, a gift for Anna’s birthday, were inspired by a walk in the woods with Maxx and Nomi.

The story:
Let’s See What Happens.
Not far from their house
Maxx and Naomi follow the river trail
into the dark woods.

“Be still,” whispers Maxx,
A strange clicking noise
is coming from a tree along the path.
“Trees don’t click”, Maxx says,
Naomi points to a colorful
orange, black and white bug.
(Cream Spot Tiger Moth)
“I think that bug is afraid of us” Maxx
says. They decide not to move and
the clicking stops.
(Cream Spot Tiger Moths make a rapid
clicking noise to scare away attackers.)

“I know! Let’s stand here,
listen, watch,
and see what happens” Maxx says.
Naomi agrees.

Before long a fluttering sound
announces a flock of butterflies.
(Cloudless Sulphur Butterfly)
They swirl around Maxx and Naomi.
One lands on Naomi’s pink dress
while others collect on the nearby tree.
Naomi gently lifts the butterfly onto her
finger.

A twig breaks under the hoof of a passing
deer as she leads her fawn to the river to
drink.

A dragonfly darts along the trail, stopping
to hover above Maxx and Naomi’s heads.
Maxx raises his finger
and the dragonfly (Twelve-spot Skimmer) lands.
Maxx and Naomi take a close look at the insect.

A sudden splash makes them jump.
An eagle skims the surface of the river,
and lifts a fish with his talons.

“I have an idea,” Maxx tells Naomi,
“next time, let’s bring our chairs.”

emilyintheflinthills

Emily in the Flint Hills

This is an example of a painting started in the field, literally, and finished in the studio. Three canvases are joined for this Flint Hills view. It seemed the perfect background for a wonderful woman who has decided to make the Flint Hills her home. Ever gracious, welcoming and interesting, Emily sits holding her cup of tea, one of which you would also be sipping if you were her guest. The red pillows? Late into the evening one weekend at Em’s we sewed red pillows  which were set on straw bales for the live music venue at a local festival. Where did all that red fabric come from? I think those trunks in the attic are magic.