Monthly Archives: March 2014

The Devil Wears Converse, Revisited

I'll admit that lately I've been wearing moccasins, but I''ll never lose my love for the Chuck Taylors.

Chuck  Taylors forever.

 

Let’s call it Throwback Friday.

This week I went through my first blog, Greenwoman Zine, looking for posts about starting my business. Words that described not only the process but my feelings about why I’m doing what I’m doing. By that, I mean sacrificing dollars, time, and sanity in an attempt to be a publisher in this genre of literature I love most—garden writing.

I found what I needed. Oh, how much more starry-eyed I was back then! Every victory was huge. Every discovery was full of sparkly-specialness.

Would I trade now for then? Today I would say yeah, probably. But ask me in a month or a year and it could be a very different story. I hope so. That’s why I keep on keeping on.

I’m sharing this old post because I thought you might find it amusing, and this week I’m revisiting the agony of straddling the gulf of business while wearing the hats of creator and “boss.” I’ve always felt I was a teacher, and at times a good leader, but being a boss is a very different manner. To be a boss, it sometimes seems that there has to be an inflation of ego (that I cannot muster) combined with a talent to firmly deal with those you’d prefer to tell to (insert imaginative insult here). That, too, is a skill I do not possess. So it’s a struggle and often I wonder if the Grace and Anna (you will read about them below) will ever be in balance.

* * *

 

(This essay first appeared in Greenwoman Zine on June 14, 2011.)

At the end of last summer I watched the documentary September Issue with my daughter Lily. While I’m not a huge fan of haute couture (and Lily is) I appreciate the art of fashion and I’ve always dug Vogue‘s articles.

I’d also seen, and loved, The Devil Wears Prada, so I had a preconceived notion or two about the subject of the documentary, Vogue editor in chief Anna Wintour. The Devil Wears Prada portrayed her as 1) shockingly insensitive to others’ feelings, and, 2) cruel and boundary-less when it came to using employees for personal needs. If you think about it, those were her only “crimes;” but for a woman they are felonies.

After watching The September Issue, about the time I started my own magazine, I didn’t come away with a negative impression of Anna Wintour. I, instead found myself in complete awe of her abilities. She also seemed a soft-serve version of the icy Prada-lady, but, then again, who knows the “truth”? Like any art, films are subjective. Though I was in awe of Wintour, I identified with Vogue’s Art Director, Grace Coddington. Coddington, a brilliant photographer and stylist, was fun, a bit impish, and she didn’t give a shit about being a fashion plate herself (defiantly wearing her signature black clothing, which Wintour had declared “out,” and comfortable sandals instead of de rigueur high fashion high heels). Most admirably, Coddington was fearless about questioning Wintour’s editorial decisions. This is what I connected with most—that questioning of authority, as that has been a major theme in my life.

It fascinates me how the “establishment” and the “movement” work against (yet ultimately for) one another—the establishment seeking to thwart evolution, the movement always pushing for it. That dynamic is clear in the film. Coddington (and other artists) push, Wintour reigns them in, yet also engages in the process (and progress). She evaluates and edits the forward push, serving both establishment and movement.

My surprise, recently, was to see my own shift. I now identify more with Anna Wintour—though I actually shook my head while typing those words, as it is such a newly emergent part of my personality.

Here’s how my sympathy for the devil came about.  Now I’m doing basically what Wintour does, though, obviously, at a much different level. The point is I’ve become the person who must make decisions. I’m answerable to everything, which is, ultimately, the success or failure of my publishing work. As this enterprise has progressed I’ve come to the point where I’ve learned a single all-important lesson: I simply cannot, must not, fuck around. The magazine comes first. Emotional stuff gets in the way. Decisions must be made quickly and clear-headedly. If something isn’t working, it must be fixed, or dispensed with, immediately.

This is tough. In the last month I’ve had to 1) reject a small piece of art that I asked, as a favor, to be created from someone I didn’t know well—and then deal with a mini-temper tantrum from the artist; 2) find another writer, at the eleventh hour, to replace one who couldn’t fulfill her obligation; 3) make the decision to try to design the entire magazine myself, adding more weeks of training and work to my already overloaded plate, not to mention setting the publication date back a few weeks; 4) consider advice from a person notable in the garden/education field who wrote me suggesting that I should abandon my idea of a subscription magazine  and, instead, create a free online publication (having faith the advertisers will come!); and, most harrowing, 4) go through a grant interview in which I had to lay my last 15-20 years of of a life immersed in art, gardening, and writing soul-bare, in order to try to make this project easier on me and my family financially.

All of these trials have had emotional costs, and my decisions had to be made quickly and on a single criteria—what I believe is best for the publication, and, by association, me.  I surprised myself on how efficiently and quickly I met each challenge. As I told a friend, I could not have done the things I am doing now ten years ago.

Some of those trials were painful but the only one that really shook me was the grant interview. Although the people conducting it were wonderfully friendly, receptive, and genuinely engaged in my story, and the questions put to me were perfect, I have never felt so naked and vulnerable as then, sharing my hopes, dreams, motivations. The hardest part was doing it  in a context that  felt, ultimately, like begging. Please approve of me, what I’ve put my heart and soul into for the last  two decades! Please consider my vision worthy! Won’t you slice off a little slice of that tasty philanthropic pie for my art? Later that day I wept while working in the garden, feeling angry at what I perceived as failure—that I didn’t have enough money myself to do things without asking for help. I was also angry that I had to expose my soul and ask for my worth to be validated.

My anger was soon replaced by defiance. At one point during the interview I was asked if I’d “accept less than I requested.” Immediately I chirped, “Sure!” Later, I thought, I’ve put in a lot of hours of work and have been through a lot of hoops doing this, endless weeks of waiting around, and I’m going to have to jump through more hoops if I get the award. My friend Edie once joked that we had the same personalities, we were like the little mouse that gives the hawk the one finger salute just as it’s about to be swooped upon and devoured. Hence my next thought: If I don’t get what I applied for, well, then, I don’t want any of it. It’s not worth it.

I know I may happily eat humble pie regarding that little proclamation. It won’t be the first time. Whether it would be selling out, or wisdom, or a bit of both, I’m not sure. What I do know is the very next day I went to the bank and took out a loan—and I felt better.

Last week my horribly unfashionable old pink Converse shoes were showing their wear. Faded, a couple of holes, unfit for wearing in public, though I was still doing just that. I have a weird attachment to this brand of shoes; it’s not just comfort—they also symbolize the girl-me who lives strongly still, who got her first pair (white) at age 11, and the whole rock ’n roll/Coddington-appetite for defiance. Lily, out shopping with me and somewhat scandalized by my lack of good taste (her inner Anna Wintour always in dominance), remarked when I gleefully spotted a new pair for $25:  “Mom, you’re almost 50, when are you going to stop wearing those?”

“When I’m 90.”

At home I showed my husband my new shoes and took the old ones to the trash. He asked, “Aren’t you going to save those, to garden in?”

“Hell no,” I said. “I’m wearing my new ones.”

Anna Wintour is rising, but I’m glad the Grace in me is still going strong.

—Sandra

* * *

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They Called it Poppy Love

A Bed of Poppies, Maria Oakey Dewing, 1909. Via Wikimedia Commons (public domain).

A Bed of Poppies, Maria Oakey Dewing, 1909, via Wikimedia Commons.

This week my attention went to poppies when I read an article in Garden Rant and saw a Facebook friend’s photo of blooming poppies outside his office in California. Poppies, oh, yes—I remember them! With this long (long) winter I had nearly forgotten. Now on my to do list: scatter a few more of my saved ‘Lauren’s Grape’ seeds over the next snow!

With the beautiful poppy and its enchantment in mind, I couldn’t help but think of the enchanting Elisabeth Kinsey. She has written an educational and very sexy essay in every issue of Greenwoman Magazine. I have been so honored to publish her dreamy, steamy work.

So I thought I’d share the first essay Elisabeth published. About poppies. The one that made us fall in love. I hope you’ll enjoy it, share it, and share your stories about poppy love.

—Sandra Knauf

Poppies, John William Godward, 1912

Poppies, John William Godward, 1912. From Wikimedia Commons.

 

I never knew I could be the sort of woman who grew poppies. These women live in gigantic houses with terraced gardens, boasting dripping sedum and perfect bunches of perennials, color coded, tendrilling out of their hibernation in perfect cycles. These women, some sturdy with spiky hair, licking their girlfriend’s ear in public, some in long overall type dresses, tight curly hair never getting into their eyes, their hunky husbands, sporting tool belts, bursting out of the house with a glass of wine on a golden tray.

“Honey, why don’t you leave the garden for now?”

These women don’t sweat. These women hold the secret to colorful California poppies’ papery orange ecstatic fluttering, the virgin pink or dragon-red flames of corn poppies grouping around the walkway. These poppy women are able to survey their bursting gardens from a flagstoned patio glance, while sipping their Nebbiolo or Chenin blanc. These women were not me. I tried to grow poppies and failed.

A Colorado master gardener friend (I’ll call her Camille) pshawed this idea.

“Beth,” she said, “Your problem is that you want to coddle your plants. You can’t think of poppies as if they’re roses. You need to be like a dude and ignore them. You need to play hard to get.”

Could it be that I was overanalyzing the poppy? Expert gardener Barbara Pleasant claims the poppy to be the “Easiest plant to grow.” She writes, “You can grow them in Sleetmute, Alaska. You can grow them in Corkscrew, Florida. Heck, there was even a big patch of them just shy of Oz on the Yellow Brick Road!” Was I the only gardener around who had bad luck growing poppies? To understand the poppy, I had to get into poppy-mind. Not to plunge into its aphrodisiac qualities (we’re not allowed to grow that variety here), but to understand its wants and needs. Basically, Camille had me pegged. I was an overbearing drudge. Poppies held a grudge against me.

To lure this beauty from my sandy acidic soil, I had to stop planting it in the “normal” planting seasons. As I read up on this obstinate beauty, I learned what’s obvious to me now. Don’t grow this seed indoors with your herbs in February. Don’t even let its papery folds, its furry bulb head into your mind in the spring. No. This plant needs to be ignored, left alone. Which is so hard for me. Look at Le Coquelicot (yes, the root of this name is ‘Coq’) by Kees van Dongen (and now ignore the dong in Dongen.) It’s the over exaggerated red hat, the woman’s eyes looking off away from its viewer, confidant of the action she’ll be getting momentarily. The poppy is a primal need. This is what it feels like to be human.

Camille commanded, “Throw those poppy seeds on the cold ground and then they’ll want your love.” I didn’t even have to prepare my soil. When I was able to let go of this idea of seducing these almost-alien-at-first bodies out of my inadequate garden patch, it was almost too much for me. Nothing to coddle, watch under grow lights, no spring grace during winter in my living room, where I was all knowing, all seeing grower.

Poppies are actinomorphic, not zygomorphic, which, according to Ushimaru et al, means that in the world of flower sex is “easily pollinated.” Poppies throw themselves freely to any honey bee coming along to plunge into their open folds. To the sluts of the floral world, I was coming on too strong.

I took my Papaver rhoeas seeds when the wind held enough chill for me to feel like eating lentil soup and wearing slippers all day and threw them onto the cold ground in the corner of my garden I had previously tried planting something fluttering and pink. Yes. Then they came. The poppies rose up and out in a mild May, furry, wanton, curving bundles, obstinate, and soon to throw open color into my landscape.

Throw those poppy seeds onto the ground unabashedly. They need nothing more. Do this, and you’ll have the poppy’s heart forever. We can all be this sort of woman.

Le Coquelicot by Kees van Dongen

Le Coquelicot (“The Corn Poppy”)                  by Kees van Dongen, 1919.

Ushimaru, Atushi, Ikumi Dohzono, Yasuoki Takami, and Fujio Hyodo. 2009. “Flower orientation enhances pollen transfer in bilaterally symmetrical flowers.” Oecologia 160, no. 4: 667-674. Academic Search Premier, EBSCOhost (accessed February 7, 2011).
Pleasant, Barbara. 1995. “Poppies make the world go round.” Organic Gardening (08973792) 42, no. 5: 68. GreenFILE, EBSCOhost (accessed February 7, 2011).

 

Elisabeth Kinsey

Elisabeth Kinsey

Born in Northern California, Elisabeth Kinsey was raised amongst her Italian and Jewish families. Her parents converted to Mormonism, which is the basis of her memoir: The Holy Ghost Goes to Bed at Midnight: Half a Mormon Life, that she is now shopping around to agents.
     She has a BA in Writing from Metropolitan State University of Denver and a MA in Creative Writing from Regis University. 
     She teaches writing and composition at Regis University and writing workshops in fun environs. Her published works appear in Greenwoman Magazine, Ask Me About My Divorce, Seal Press, Wazee Journal, The Rambler, and Emergency Press among other journals.
     Elisabeth can be called upon to speak about: divorce, leaving a strict religion, zone 5 gardening, Italian cooking, and andragogy. 

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Daffodil-irious*

Photograph of Trumpet Daffodils by Nino Barbieri, via Wikimedia Commons

Photograph of trumpet daffodils by Nino Barbieri, via Wikimedia Commons.             What makes the genus Narcissus unique are their coronas or “cups.”

I have a case of the yellow fever.** I want to shout, “The daffodils are here!” (Here in the grocery stores, anyway.)

I eagerly wait for their arrival, not only as a sign that spring is almost here, but because they are a rare winter indulgence. Inexpensive daffodils = cut flowers for the home, cut domestic flowers! At the new Trader Joe’s in Boulder, Colorado, they were practically giving them away this week—$1.29 for a bunch of 10! Visiting the city for my daughter Zora’s birthday, I bought both daughters, my mom, and myself bouquets. Interior designer Alexandra Stoddard advises: “Always add a touch of yellow to a room, even if it’s just a bowl of lemons. Yellow is the color of sunshine and it’s important to your psyche.” To me, a small vase of daffodils is a spot of happiness.

Because it’s daffodil-icious time, I thought I’d share Noel Kingbury’s book Daffodil: The Remarkable Story of the World’s Most Popular Spring Flower (Timber Press). I have to admit I felt out of my element once I started reading this encyclopedic book. While I grew up in Missouri where country roadsides and even fields were splashed with these golden beauties, it’s different in Colorado. Here, unless you have the means to supply a wasteful amount of water to your arid landscape, daffodils, the true perennials, signs of rebirth and longevity, are short-lived.

Still, I have dabbled with daffs. Once I planted a few dozen in the parkway (here we call it a hell-strip). They lasted a few years. I planted some adorable miniatures, ‘Minnow,’ and ‘Tête-à-tête,’ and ‘Hoop Petticoat’ in the front garden. They, too, along with some fragrant Tazettas that barely made it through the first winter, eventually expired in my Darwinian landscape.

Narcissus

Everything you ever wanted to know about daffodils is here. I promise you.

How different it is across the pond! There, with the ample moisture, they grow everywhere and in abundance. The first thing I learned in Kingsbury’s book is that daffodils are beloved by the British. They are immortalized in poetry. The Irish even wanted them as their national flower (but the shamrock prevailed). Further, they are an “imperial” flower which means they originated in Great Britain and were brought to countries where people of British descent settled (like the U.S.). Kingsbury explains how they are also a true “cult” flower. This means those in the daffodil cult often grow only these flowers, and sometimes exhibit strange behavior surrounding this passion, such as secretiveness about their hobby and a certain clannishness.

I knew daffodils of a single variety were genetically identical (from one original bulb) but I didn’t realize the great diversity held within the seeds. Daffodils from different varieties readily cross-pollinate, and while many hybrid seedlings are sterile, some are not. That is why the genus Narcissus contains 27,000 cultivated varieties. Of these varieties there are 13 Divisions, or Classifications, which starts with Division One, Trumpet Daffodils. There are also Large-Cupped, Small-Cupped, Doubles, Triandus, Poeticus, Jonquil, Bulbocodium, Miniatures . . . and on it goes.

Kingsbury covers the divisions and many other aspects of daffodils in detail. By the time I read through the divisions I was over-stimulated by all the lovely photos by Jo Whitworth, and overwhelmed with information. This is a book that will be the Bible for the daffodil-obsessed, and that person is not me. Maybe one day, if I move to a different climate where daffodils can actually thrive, but for now the best I can do is promise them a stay of execution.

Even though we are not a match in the garden, I enjoyed this exceptional book. And I relished the history. One creepy-cool tidbit was that Tazetta (fragrant) daffodils were found in tombs in ancient Egypt. In fact, Kingsbury reveals that “. . . the greatest of the Pharaohs, Ramses II, was buried with daffodil bulbs placed on his eyes.”

When railroads came to Britain, and flowers could easily be shipped to city markets, wildflower daffodils turned to cash crop daffodils. First they were grown underneath fruit trees, providing a two-for-one opportunity, but soon they became their own product. From cheery flowers for hospitals patients to bouquets for Mothering Day (what Mother’s Day is called in Britain) cultivation got serious.

My favorite stories took place during World War II. All the land and facilities formerly used for flower production were shifted to food production only. Daffodil bulbs were dug up and thrown out, though due to their hardiness, many survived. They can still be found blooming under the hedges and in ditches along the rural roads where they were dumped. During this time it was against the law to personally transport any ornamental crop (which included having them found in your luggage!), so when two men were caught carrying 138 boxes containing flowers, including daffodils, they were arrested. They received prison terms of 6 and 12 months respectively. A public outcry ensued and some Scilly Isles growers sent daffodils to Prime Minister Winston Churchill. Churchill reportedly responded: “These people must be allowed to grow their flowers and send them to London, they cheer us up so much in these dark days.” The ban was lifted, but then growers had to deal with finding boxes to transport the flowers. One type of container they recycled were wax-coated cardboard boxes that had originally supplied meat to American soldiers. Often these boxes would be vile with the stench and scraps of rotting meat, but the flowers were shipped in them anyway and they sold well!

Besides the things I have told you about (and barely scratched the surface of) Kingsbury provides chapters on portraits of “breeders and conservers” in Europe and the U.S., daffodil cultivation (indoors and out), wild colonies and “hot spots,” heirlooms, and a lot more. Daffodil: The Remarkable Story of the World’s Most Popular Spring Flower is itself a remarkable work.

Maybe my most valuable takeaway was gratitude for the annual treat of cut flower daffodils. Through this book I was reminded that field flower harvesting is physically difficult, poorly-paid, and often takes place in cold, wet weather. Each daffodil bud must meet exacting specifications and be cut to a particular length, 11 inches. As if that wasn’t enough, the sap contains a toxin that can cause a nasty rash, so protective gloves must be worn. In Britain, most of the labor comes from seasonal eastern-European migrants. I am sure it’s a similar story here, but with our farm laborers from Mexico. It is good to think of them, and what they bring to us, as we enjoy these harbingers of spring.

—Sandra Knauf

* “Daffodil-irious” is a chapter in Henry Mitchell’s book The Essential Earthman.

**”Yellow fever” is apparently a cute British term for daffodil infatuation.

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Posters, a Riddle Contest, and More

Johannes Florentius Martinet (1729 - 1795)

The image above is an antique Dutch print (c.1799) of seeds including rosemary, chicory, dandelion, sundew, geranium. The artist is Johannes Florentius Martinet (1729 – 1795).

When I started to think up ideas for the Greenwoman Bookstore, one idea was reproducing some interesting prints into posters, so I could share them with other plant & nature/paper/antique freaks. The store still has very few offerings. It’s hardly fair to even call it a store, yet, but I have managed to get three posters printed. I’m debuting them this week and offering a one-week-only “Grand Opening” special: All three are half-price, $7.50 instead of the regular $14.99.  See them here!

Here’s another poster. It’s French and the image came from a turn-of-the-century dictionary:

 Grand Dictionnaire Universel du XIXe Siècle  (Great Universal Dictionary of the 19th Century) Artist i H. Millot

Champignons from Grand Dictionnaire Universel du XIXe Siècle (Great Universal Dictionary of the 19th Century) Artist is H. Millot.

I have a cool egg poster (German) as well. You can see them all at the Greenwoman Store and read about them there, too.

* * *

Now for the riddle contest. Which is connected to the posters. Backstory: Zora and I are working with a team of students at UCCS (hi Courtney, Lisa, Lohitha, and Jordan!). They are in the Bachelor of Innovation program, where students work with businesses and come up with innovative ideas. They’re helping us with marketing this semester.  They meet with me and Zora every couple of weeks.

We’ve only just begun, but already we’re hearing some great ideas. One was holding contests on our Zera and the Green Man‘s Facebook Page (if you haven’t “liked” it, I hope you will today). I loved the idea of contests, but I wanted to make sure they’d be something unique, memorable, fun, and educational. I mulled it over and the next morning I woke up early with an idea.

What if we came up with some entertaining botanical riddles, videotaped someone reading them (I’m trying to get Adam, from our first commercial), and then gave away prizes for correct answers? My daughter Zora, who just studied riddles in a class on Old English literature last year, loved the idea. She shared some rather bawdy riddles that monks wrote back in that time (check these out, from the famous Exeter Book. Quite shocking! Yet entertaining. And goodness, I just took a closer look at that embroidery!).

Of course I needed something rated “G” for a general audience, so we did some research and are working on creating some ourselves.

Then just yesterday, I had another brainstorm—maybe you, clever readers, would like to try your hand at . . . riddling?

As a bribe, I’ll give anyone who writes an original riddle, that we accept and publish, a free poster. (And, of course, attribution.) Come up with three great riddles, get three posters. Or maybe more if you want to do more—heck, I see no reason to impose a limit. My mind even goes further—maybe if the idea takes off, I’ll put them all in a book!

The deadline for this contest will be next Friday night at midnight, March 14th, as we want to get the contest going soon. We’ll contact winning riddlers (ha, Batman reference) the next week and will have an update on the 22nd.

Send riddles to sandra@greenwomanmagazine.com.

What should the riddles be like? Well, not too long. I’d say four to six lines, though I’m flexible. We want high quality, maybe funny, leaning toward the poetic more than the one-liners, though one-liners can be cool, too. Here’s a Hawaiian riddle I read this week:  What is a man with three eyes and yet can cry out of only one? (Answer below.)

Coconuts, photograph by Tahir mq, via Wikimedia Commons

Coconuts photographed by Tahir mq, via Wikimedia Commons

This particular riddle was a little confusing to me as I don’t have a lot of experience with coconuts (couldn’t the milk come out of all the holes?) so I looked it up on YouTube  and learned two of the holes are harder (they have ridges or “eyebrows” above them), and the third eye is softer. So soft it can be pierced with a paring knife or corkscrew.

That one’s fun, but our ideal riddles would be more educational. For example, a coconut riddle could include clues that the seed contains both “meat” and “milk,” and that the seed can travel great distances, floating in the ocean, to plant itself at other lands. I also read this week that coconut milk was used in World War II as “a sterile intravenous drip for the wounded during WWII.” Fascinating stuff.

Here’s another example, that I took from a longer riddle/poem. It’s over a century old:

Emblem of youth and innocence,
With walls enclosed for my defense,
I boldly spread my charms around,
‘Till some rude lover breaks the mound,
And takes me to his breast.
Here soon I sicken and decay.
My beauty lost, I’m turned away.
What am I?

If you haven’t guessed, the answer is a rose. This style of plant riddle is rare; most that I found were one- or two-line children’s riddles.

As far as finding information on a plant, fruit, vegetable, etc. that you’d like to write about, it’s easy as the Internet chock-full of plant lore and information. If you want to read more and learn more about riddles, a great site to visit is Good Riddles Now.

I do hope you’ll enter the contest!

* * *

One last thing. I would really like to share my novel, Zera and the Green Man, with all of you. As many of you know, it’s a self-published work, it’s received some good reviews, and I’m trying very hard to get the word out. So I decided to offer another download promotion (Kindle) for just 99 cents. This special (click here) will be going on only through next Sunday, March 16th.  Check it out, tell your friends. Many adults love YA (young adult) and this is a book that plant lovers especially will find appealing.

And, if you read it, please consider leaving a short review on Amazon. As I said before, self-published authors need all the help they can get!

Thanks, and I hope to hear from you soon.

—Sandra Knauf

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Spring Chicken

Appraisal by Grant Wood, 1931

“Appraisal,” by Grant Wood, 1931

Some months ago I came across this painting by Grant Wood and fell in love with it. The chicken was beautiful and I thought the farm woman was, too. I got into imagining what was going on in this story. Did the rich lady (judging from her jewelry and beaded purse) wish to buy a chicken? For eggs? Or for her dinner? Or maybe she’s there for some other reason and the farm woman just happens to be holding a chicken. (Yeah, I guess that sounds silly, but she does seem to be cradling it rather tenderly.)

I thought of the image again when I was trying to figure out what to share with you this week. I thought a poem would be nice, and this one from Lois Beebe Hayna resonated with me. She’s a celebrated local poet, and I treasure her work. It has been featured on this blog and in Greenwoman Magazine, Issue #2. She turned 100 years old last spring.

Of course, after deciding on “Spring Chicken,” I connected the farm woman in the painting with the farm woman in this poem; even though her coat’s green, not brown.

Spring Chicken

by Lois Beebe Hayna

The brown coat’s good for another
winter’s wear, one of the best
buys I ever made—a good warm coat
marked down. I wore it into town
this morning in the first hard frost,
and if I felt drab in it
and ‘country’—how else
can a woman my age expect to feel?

I sold my last good batch of eggs—
hens pretty much quit laying
when it gets cold. I made enough
to tide me till Christmas
and well into spring, if I’m careful.
I am always careful.

They were buttoning a red coat
on the fly-specked mannequin in Ebert’s
window—scarlet wool, with a jaunty flare
and a warm turned-up collar.
It drew me in, though I knew
it cost too much and anyway
this brown coat is still just fine.

It fit like a charm. A pretty woman
gleamed back at me from a scratchy
mirror. That woman dipped deep
into my summer savings and I rode home
not dowdy at all in the old
brown coat with the red glow warming me
right through the box.

I know what they’ll say, whispering
behind their hands—At her age!
Doesn’t she know she’s no spring chicken? Squandering
money on a coat that’ll show every speck
of dirt? I smile into the wind. The woman
wearing this red coat
won’t care.

* * *

I so love this poet, don’t you? I’ve read all of her books; check them out here on Amazon. There are many delights in their pages.

And doesn’t the painting fit well?

Now for the strange part. I didn’t really know a lot about Grant Wood so I read a short bio, and then looked up images of “Appraisal.” One led me to a blog, which led me to this article by Henry Adams in Arts & Antiques. Adam’s 2010 article is about a “remarkable” new biography of Grant Wood by Tripp Evans, Grant Wood, A Life (published by Knopf). Although it was mentioned in the Wikipedia bio that there was a “theory” Wood was a closeted homosexual, the article states that Evans was convinced. (Grant remained securely closeted because in those days homosexuality, even if you were a WWI war vet, as Grant was, could have you sent to prison, or condemn you to castration.) Evans’ book goes into that aspect of Wood’s life, and into surprising insights into his work. (I also learned that Wood’s Daughters of the Revolution showed our founding fathers in drag. Wood called it a satire.) Now for the big surprise. I learned that the farm woman in “Appraisal” was actually a fellow artist, the devilishly handsome Edward Rowan. From a bio on Rowan, I learned that he was a nationally-known leader of the arts during the Depression era and that he and Wood had met in Iowa (where Grant was from). Moreover, during a visit with Edward and his wife Leata at their summer home in the town of Eldon, Iowa, Grant Wood discovered the house that inspired his American Gothic masterpiece.

Wood and Edward’s friendship was the catalyst for the Stone City Art Colony in 1932-33. Rowan ultimately became the Assistant Chief of the Fine Arts Section, Federal Works Agency, Public Buildings Administration, and remained in that position through the 1940s. There Rowan supervised artists creating murals across America; ultimately there were over 1,000. Rowan, also a WWI vet, worked for veterans causes throughout his life.

It’s funny where a painting can lead you—and oh, the stories behind the art!

—Sandra Knauf

Edward Rowan

Edward Rowan

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