From Herefords to Holsteins ~ Bucolic Landscapes

Part of what I have found interests me with my American Landscape series is the life that a bovine or two adds to a country scene.  In my Grazing Alongside Spring Creek painting, I feature a small herd of cattle including a Hereford and Black Angus.  I just completed this oil painting on board, entitled The Watering Hole, which features a number of black and white Holsteins.

The Watering Hole, 10 x 12, Oil on Board by William R. Beebe

The Watering Hole, 10 x 12, Oil on Board by William R. Beebe

On my last excursion to rural farm country, I rounded several bends, coming across several breeds I was unfamiliar with.  I’m anxious to research the different breeds and to paint them in their surroundings.  

As I photograph the large bovines, I notice the personality in their faces.  I get a kick out of how they start coming over to me when I approach.  Watching them chew their cud, swish their tails and graze captures my attention to the point where it’s hard for me to move on.  Whether it’s a Hereford, Angus, or Holstein, I’m enjoying painting them thoroughly and I believe they add life, personality and interest to what otherwise might be a lovely but somewhat lifeless landscape.

I hope you enjoy this quiet setting of the Holsteins by the willow and watering hole.  This bucolic landscape was one where I could have spent hours observing the cows, studying cloud formations and observing how changing light would affect shadows and color.

At the same time, as I took in the moment, I was reminded of a funny memory from many years ago, when my good friend, my brother and I were fishing at a farmer’s pond.  One of the cows seemed to take a liking to my friend and cornered him at one end of the pond, standing in the water with only a small evergreen shrub leading interference.  My friend would move one way and the cow would move with him.  He ended up dropping his fishing pole and eventually made a mad dash for the fence!  ☺

So this painting has a double meaning to me.  The captured moment is of tranquility, without the disturbance of man.  But in my mind, I can visualize my friend in the far right corner of the pond, standing in the shallow water in his waders with a large cow, full of “personality” cornering him and daring him to come out from behind the shrub.  ☺

Letting the Family Farm Go ~ Hanging on to Memories!

My love of old barns, farmhouses, fields and pastures goes deeper than just family visits to my dad’s family farm in Iowa that I wrote about in Holding on to the Family Farm.  Once or twice a year growing up, my dad would also pack up the family wagon, along with his wife and three kids and we’d drive up the east coast to Hadley, Massachusetts to visit my mom’s parents at the family homestead.

Grandma and Grandpa Jakobek, Polish immigrants, moved to America for a better life in the early 1900’s, settling along the Connecticut River in the small town of Hadley.  My mom was one of eight children, raised in a white clapboard farmhouse with a three-level red barn attached to it.  No running water, a multiple seat outhouse and a family of ten!!! 

My Grandpa grew asparagus in the fertile New England soil.  He wanted a big family of boys to help him work the farm.  The funny thing is his first four children were girls, Marianne, Millie, Kaye and Vee (twins)!  Then came Joe, John, my mom and last but not least Duffy. 

All grew up working on the farm, bent over at the knees for hours on end, cutting fields of asparagus.  Hard work!  Over the years the farmhouse gained a large bathroom on the first floor off the kitchen and indoor plumbing but otherwise remained relatively the same for generations.  I loved the old, red barn that at some point was painted white.  As kids we would climb up and down the ladder-like steps, run along the treacherous floorboards with big gaps and ominous creaks playing hide and seek. 

As I grew older, I can remember my 80 year old grandfather showing me how to swing a scythe, as we cut goldenrod near the barn.  I developed blisters on my hands and was struggling to keep up with him.  Eventually I went inside and Grandpa kept going for a long time after.  The old guy was still a workhorse.  I saw the same work ethic in my mom and all of her siblings. 

I have wonderful childhood memories of large family gatherings around the dining room table, my grandparents barely speaking English and my mom conversing in fluent Polish at her home away from home. There were lots of laughs, unbelievable Polish food and happy times. 

WWII took many of the siblings off the farm.  Others married and moved away.  When both of my grandparents were gone, the farmhouse and land was left to their daughter Vee who cared for them in their old age. Eventually the farm was left to the last surviving son Duffy and eventually his son (my cousin). 

Again, the farm wasn’t divided up for money between remaining closest relatives.  The farm stayed in the family as long as there was an heir that wanted to live there or until it had to be sold because the cost to live there was too great to keep it.  In the end it was sold to two women with good taste in real estate, who blew out the back wall of the kitchen, added a deck overlooking the Connecticut River and I am assuming turned the barn into a great room.  I’m sure by now the precious land has been subdivided and built on. 

We haven’t been back in years but the memories of the Hadley farm will endure forever.  As I travel the country roads hoping to discover farms and barns to photograph and paint, I can’t help but wonder what the family history is in each.  As I paint each painting, sadly I can’t help but think “the family farm” is quickly becoming a thing of the past. 

I may be a kid from the suburbs but I’ll also always be the son of the farmer’s daughter!

Here is a pencil study of Grandpa Jakobek that I did way back in college.  He was a farmer, father of eight, barely spoke English and was always kind, generous and had a twinkle in his eye. I attribute my mustache of over thirty years to liking his! :-)

Holding on to The Family Farm ~ Are those days over?

A short time ago, I completed a farmhouse scene entitled Resting by the BrookAfter that, I painted a small one entitled Grazing Hillside.  Last week, I started a little painting with a red barn and a brick family farmhouse entitled Rockbridge Farm.  I have several more farmhouse scenes ready to go.  As I started painting Rockbridge Farm my mind began to wander down memory lane…

Every few years when we were kids (I have a younger brother, older sister, and an older brother who was already off serving his county) my dad would pack up the Nash Rambler family station wagon (then the Pontiac, then the Chrysler) along with his wife and three kids to make the somewhat obligatory 810 mile trip west to visit his mom and dad on the Iowa family farm. 

With my sister sitting in the middle of the backseat to separate my brother and me, due to our constant needling of each other, we would make the long boring ride over several days.  Occasionally the ruckus in the back seat would get so loud that my dad would say “If you don’t cut it out I will have to pull over!”  You didn’t want to make dad too mad because he was old school.  He meant it.  :-)

 My dad’s family farmland in Wever, Iowa was expansive.  It had a relatively small, white farmhouse where my dad and his four siblings grew up.  Fields of sweet corn, the sweetest I’ve ever eaten, went on for seemingly endless acres.  There were tractors, plows, and trucks all around.  I remember seeing old equipment cast aside, long grass growing over the rusty machinery.  For a kid growing up in the suburbs of Maryland, it was all new to me.  Why would they leave equipment outside to get all rusty I wondered? 

There was a hog pin, a large field of other vegetables like tomatoes and beans, a family cemetery with my ancestors buried on the hill up by the old apple orchard.  My brother, my cousin Randy, and I had unforgettable, smashing tomato fights in the tomato patch.  All wearing white tee shirts, we peppered each other with large, ripe red tomatoes. Amazingly our parents all thought it was funny.  It was all in good fun.  Nobody was concerned about the price of the tomatoes or worried about having to get the red stains out of the tee shirts.  Life on the farm.  Boys will be boys. 

My Uncle Philip was the one son that after WWII decided to stay on the farm, help out his dad (my grandfather Beebe) and eventually take over the family farm.  My dad and his older brother Ched moved east to pursue a different life.  I remember my dad talking about having to get up on blistery cold winter mornings to milk the cows at 4:30 am.  My dad was smart as a whip and became a lawyer.  However, you can take the boy off the farm but not the farm out of the boy.  He always had that reverential side, crediting his success to how he grew up with a strong work ethic and strong morals.

My uncle Philip toiled for years, working the land.  He had muscles to prove it.  He could roll his bicep up and down like Popeye.  He had hands like catchers’ mitts.  I can still remember seeing him climb into the hog pin chasing down a big, old hog in the mud and slop.  An impressionable memory for a little kid from the suburbs!

The family farm was left to my Uncle Philip, who in turn left it to his son Randy.  It was expected that the farm was to stay in the family.  Nobody considered selling it off so the siblings could divide up the money.  Farmland has become extremely valuable but the tradition was to keep the farm in the family. 

Now, with the tax laws most likely changing in the new year to regressive, old, high estate tax rates, I’m worried that it will become much harder to hold onto the family farm.  It’s a sad day when a family has to sell their farm just to pay the high estate taxes due upon settlement of their estate. 

I better paint fast because more and more farms will most likely go by the wayside down the road.  Each painting I do of a rural setting with an old barn or farmhouse reminds me of my grandparents and my heritage.  My mom’s parents were farmers too but that’s a farm story for another day!

I may be a suburban kid, but I’m still the proud son of a son of a farmer!


on 2012-12-01 15:50 by Administrator

Rockbridge Farm, 8 x 12, Oil on Board is just off the easel and sold!

Resting by the Brook ~ A Lexington Virginia Landscape

It took me a while to get where I wanted to go with this painting.  I wanted to be able to look at it and feel the tranquility of the setting, even though there is a lot going on with the paint! 

Juxtaposition of colors, considerations of tone, and application of paint were some of the elements I dealt with on a daily basis.  I used both a palette knife and brushes.  Some colors were kept clean and separate and others were blended.  The natural tendency for me with this piece was to go more toward pointillism, but I made a conscious effort to blend some areas to reduce the busyness and balance the clean dabs of color. 

I’m enjoying painting every day.  Producing a new body of work invigorates me and gets me up for painting every morning (after a cup of coffee or two). 

I was drawn to the serenity of the scene and how the placement of the farmhouse and outbuildings were strategically built on the rolling hills by the winding creek.  I’m onto my next Virginia scene of a stream running through a meadow full of wildflowers in the springtime.  It’ll be big, 30 by 40, bright and colorful.

 I am spending a good bit of time in my studio and going through a lot of paint!  As always, I would love to hear from you.