The passage of a farmer from plowing to painting

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Miranda is not the first hardworking woman to have to put up with a husband lavishly. But she is one of the most delightfully likeable.

I met Miranda on a hot pre-summer afternoon, during a recent visit to the Shiloh Museum of Ozark History in Springdale. After browsing the museum’s surprisingly detailed exhibits filled with relics from the region’s prehistoric era, its installation (no small feat), the period from Civil War to World War, from the 1920s to 1950s and modern times, I turned a corner into a gallery space where Miranda’s life is illustrated, frame after frame, in a collection of primitive paintings stunning in their simplicity and good nature.

This countless husband, Hezzakiah and Miranda are the subjects of some 55 depictions of country life in Ozark by self-taught artist Essie Ward. The series focuses on the couple at work on their farm – with Miranda working and Hezzakiah primarily trying to look busy while getting involved in much less stressful hobbies.

Miranda’s demeanor makes it clear that she is often exasperated by her man’s lazy ways. Using memory, observation, and native humor, Ward’s paintings go beyond glamor to become sarcastic, hilarious, witty, and surprisingly poignant.

Essie Treat Ward knew his subjects well. Born in the Searcy County community of Nubbin Hill in 1902, she married Jesse Ward in 1922; the couple raised chickens, pigs, vegetables, fruit trees and seven children on a small farm near Marshall.

Much of the heavy lifting fell on Essie when Jesse was diagnosed with diabetes. This continued until 1959, when he was diagnosed with cancer. After undergoing surgery, his doctors ordered him to slow down. It was at this point that she went from plowing to painting.

We’ve all heard the expression “write down what you know”. Essie Ward painted what she knew, and she definitely knew Miranda and Hezzakiah.

They are joined by an array of simply rendered recurring rural characters and objects, including a white mule, chickens, ducks, a ferocious goat, a black cat, a fence, a log cabin, an outhouse with a quarter. moonlight, low technological agricultural equipment and flower beds.

My favorite, titled “Climb That Thar Saplin Miranda”, shows a determined goat with its horned head bowed chasing unconscious Miranda as she walks through a fenced pen; Hezzakiah is halfway up a tree, observing the impending disaster but apparently doing nothing to stop it, other than offering advice on climbing trees.

The same annoyed goat chases Hezzakiah towards the house where Miranda is standing on the steps; it’s called “Get the door open Miranda.”

Another, titled “Siesta,” depicts Miranda walking towards the white mule, harnessed to a plow and standing with her head bowed as Hezzakiah, who is presumably supposed to be handling the plowing, is lying in the grass nearby, basking in the sun. .

According to the Shiloh Museum of Ozark History, which owns 55 of his works, Ward painted over masonite, holding the board in his lap, with oil paints straight from the tube. She usually finished one photo per day.

She developed a modified form of mass production for her clients: a series of 55 Miranda and Hezzakiah scenes, hand painted with landscapes properly shaded for the season of the year. Customers selected one of the scenes when placing their order. The artist’s trademark, which appears in each painting, consists of two tiny white markings that resemble the ears of a rabbit or a mule. Hundreds of paintings from the Miranda and Hezzakiah series are on display in public and private art collections around the world.

According to the Encyclopedia of Arkansas and other sources, Essie Ward was inspired to create these figures when a visitor came to see her with a photograph of a woman churning butter in the doorway of a log cabin. “He had kept this picture in his wallet for 30 years, trying to find someone to paint it,” Ward said. She gave it a try and, as she remembers, “it went really well”.

In a 1971 interview, she said: “[Painting] is all I ever wanted to do, yet I never studied painting. I guess you could say I paint just as I see it – in fact, or in memory. Others like what I do. It’s a real satisfaction. “

So was invited to participate in the Smithsonian’s Festival of American Folklife in Washington, DC, in 1970.

Essie Ward died in 1981 at the age of 79 and is buried in Canaan Cemetery in Marshall. The Shiloh Museum’s exhibit, “I Just Know I Love Painting: Ozark Folk Artist Essie Ward” runs through January 8, 2022. To learn more, visit shilohmuseum.org/project/i- just-know-i-like-to- Painting /.

Karen Martin is editor-in-chief of Perspective.

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Essie Ward’s “Climb That Thar Saplin Miranda” is on display at the Ozark History Museum in Shiloh. Philip Martin, Arkansas Democrat-Gazette


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