Remembering Rosie, a memoir of life as a child on a Wisconsin dairy farm in the mid 20th Century

Looking back on farm life of children in the last century
oil painting: 2020 nblock Remembering Rosie

My granddaughter, CaroleAnne, interviewed me for a college class assignment. All involved the past, historical events and culture that affected my life.

What was the biggest change in my lifetime and how did it affect me?

I grew up on a Wisconsin dairy farm that was homesteaded three generations earlier by my German great grandparents. I had four siblings and attended a one-room rural school. Our family didn’t have electricity until I was four years old. I remember looking up at the kitchen ceiling when the lightbulb lit up for the first time. I was so scared that it would never come back on if someone turned off the switch. The great depression (1929-1939) affected the lives of almost everyone in a country and many people stood in bread lines to get food for their families. Almost everything we ate was grown on our farm. In 1937, my father said he spent $57 at the grocery store. We were a self-sufficient family. The depression did not affect us much.

How we worked, how we played, the kinds of medicine we had available, our education, technology, communication…everything that describes how people lived was different. I would like to concentrate on changes to women’s lives since that time. It was a very conservative time. Men and women had strict expectations for their roles in families and work. As a child on a dairy farm, girls worked as hard as boys. We were a family business. Boys were expected to grow up and inherit the farm and girls were expected to marry well. My father pointed out the richest farm boy and said I should get to know him. My mother said I should be a secretary in Milwaukee. There was some talk of boys going to college, but I was discouraged by teachers and parents. “Marry well,” was my instruction. Neighbors said if I went to the University of Wisconsin, I would become a communist. My grandparents said it was OK for boys to go to college, but money shouldn’t be wasted on girls. You were supposed to get married and stay married, regardless of how miserable you were. Many marriages began as “shotgun” marriages forced by inopportune pregnancies. There were laws against abortion, and the Catholic church to which we belonged did not allow contraception and held marriage to be a lifetime contract. I followed my heart and did go to college. There girls were expected to be teachers or nurses so they could adapt better to family life where they would have the main responsibility for taking care of children.

Today, girls can expect to have roles both as wives and as workers that are more expansive. Going to college is expected, in most families, to be available to girls and boys. Girls can have dreams beyond being a teacher or a nurse. Husbands and wives both contribute to the financial support of a family as well as the raising of children. Sometimes spouses are of the same sex, a completely ridiculous and dangerous idea in my childhood where homosexuality was viewed as a deviance, or minimally as a complex social problem, that was not discussed with children. While my childhood was conservative and comfortable, the lives of women have greatly improved and provide more options. My granddaughters expect to go to college and have broader expectations of what their life can be afterwards. I believe all people should have the opportunity to become whatever they are capable of being. It is a more complicated life (there are more options to consider) but it is more freeing for women, and I would agree it is also more freeing for men.

Remembering Rosie is a memoir I have been working on for a few years. I originally started writing it for my grandchildren. It is a story of my childhood on a Wisconsin dairy farm in the mid-20th century.
I expect it to be out in early 2021.

Grisaille painting

My sons gifted me with a zoom class in grisaille painting from the New York Academy of Art taught by John Wellington, an established artist and great teacher. I am halfway through the 3-hour sessions of six weekly classes.

Grisaille is a French word meaning “grey.” Grisaille is pronounced “griz-EYE.” It is done to create an underpainting with a limited palette related to one color, usually grey. Underpaintings are, as the name implies, to be painted over. It was often done by the northern European artists during the Renaissance. The class is still working on underpainting but I expect we will begin to put in color, shadow mixes and transparent glazes. Mr. Wellington said we could do a complete painting in grisaille rather than adding other colors.

Monochromatic paintings are beautiful, but I want to know how the colors are applied. I like grisaille as an underpainting because it lets me concentrate on light and dark without the complexity of color.

Prior to class I gathered the materials needed: Recommended were a variety of “round” brushes as they were used in traditional painting rather than flat or filbert brushes, mediums (I chose Galkyd Lite thinned with mineral spirits), and supports of portrait linen, wood panel, aluminum, copper or prepared watercolor paper.

I planned to use a good quality prepared watercolor paper not wanting to invest in Belgian linen for a learning experiment. Watercolor paper used for oil painting must be a high quality, stiff watercolor paper. I cut it to size and taped it to stiff backgrounds like paint panels and even old paintings. I made several sizes. Next, I used two coats of gesso on each and followed with an oil primer.

I bought three Belgian linen portrait canvases to use later when I had learned the technique. I also bought an 11″x14″ Belgian portrait canvas in case I did not like the watercolor paper. Ha! It was a good thing I had backup. I hated painting on the prepared watercolor paper. I started painting on the small portrait canvas. My right hand with a slight essential tremor made it hard to paint a full figure on a tiny canvas with very small brushes. I was left with using a 29″x30” linen canvas that I hoped to use later. That worked fine.

Every painting is an experiment. I’ll stop making mistakes when I die.

Layout and composition
Our model was a female dancer dressed in a pink gown with a Russian fur hat in a seated position on a burgundy sofa. I decided to draw her full figure rather than just a face. I had toned my painting with a wash of burnt sienna acrylic paint. I first experimented with my sketch book…placement of the figure in space and light/dark values. I used vine charcoal to sketch as I did later on the canvas. I blotted the charcoal thoroughly with a fine cotton cloth leaving a faint memory of the lines. I made three small piles of paint..mars black, titanium white, and a grey mixture made of both.

Beginning the painting
I usually lay down a too-dark line for sketching. It makes it hard to correct later. I made myself think “grey, not black.” That is necessary because I make a lot of corrections. I didn’t begin art lessons until I was in my seventies so it is like teaching an old dog new tricks. In later years, you can learn but sometimes it takes longer. I like the challenge. One of the things I learned is to try to keep as much white as possible in light areas and not commit too quickly into shadow mixtures. My painting looks muddy in some places because I have redrawn it so many times as I correct form issues. I have it on an easel behind my computer desk. I want to make corrections so badly but I know I must leave it dry so I can paint on it in the next class.

Painting of Wendy finished and sold.