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Behind a great rose garden there is an Uncle Dan  

American Beauty, 8 x 8 inches, acrylic on paper, 2011.My sister, Becky tells a story about her attempt at a rose garden.  She bought a dozen rose bushes to plant in her yard. She amended the soil, planted, fed and watered them. She did all the things she read in her gardening books to ensure her roses bloomed. Sounds like she worked her behind off in that garden, doesn’t it? What she really meant was her husband, Bob, amended the soil, planted, fed and watered the roses. I like this story, because I really don’t know any true gardening women. I just know women who go to the nursery and pick out plants and bring them home. Someone else, (insert husband’s name) is out in the yard schlepping wheel barrows of dirt around the yard. Becky’s roses did poorly and she lamented her ( Bob’s) failure to grow roses to our Aunt Dorothy. Becky asked how is it that your roses are so beautiful. You must have the golden touch.  Aunt Dorothy replied, Not at all. I can’t grow anything. They die all the time. Uncle Dan just digs them up and plants new ones. 

Aunt Dot admitted her failure as a gardener freely. She liked that Uncle Dan grew roses for her.  He brought the fresh cut roses in and put them in a vase on her kitchen table.  He always said something romantically nauseating for guests to hear.  But he had a twinkle in his eye and he made her smile.  I think there is something really affectionate about a husband planting and growing roses for his wife, especially if she lacks gardening skills.   As for the women I know, most of them would readily admit that behind a great rose garden there is an Uncle Dan. We have been the lucky recipients of roses planted for us and think it’s just fine.

Dorothy, a real American Beauty.


Catalog Money

catalog moneyYou Pick, 6 x 13 inches, acrylic on paper, 2011.My mother-in-law, Jane, was a city girl, but her cousin, Francie, was all country.  Francie grew up on a farm, married a farmer who lived down the road, and raised her children on the same farm. They were one of those wonderful multi-generational families that worked together. They farmed in the spring, canned in the fall and quilted in the winter. Francie and husband George grew everything they needed. They even collected heirloom seeds to continue growing the lettuces and tomatoes their families had protected for generations. It was amazing to walk through the fields and see so much. But I have to say, the most impressive field in the spring was Francie’s strawberry field. It was big, and when the berries were ripe, she opened her field to friends and neighbors to pick their own.  Whatever profit Francie collected became her catalog money.  Very clever of Francie to tempt us with fresh picked strawberries.


Above: (Left) Country Girl, Francie Wilhelm, teaching us how to pick. (Right) City girl, Jane, picked strawberries with ouroldest son. Check out Jane's red pantsuit and strawberry blouse. There will be more about this fabulous woman later.

We were given instructions on picking strawberries: stay in your row, don’t leave ripe berries, don’t kneel on plants, don’t knock blossoms off, and don’t eat too many before you pay.  Once we started it was hard to stop. Warm from the sun, the sweet smell of ripe berries is intoxicating. And if we picked extra, well, it just gave Francie a little more catalog money.

1984. Wilhelm Farm, Mascoutah, Illinois. Me with my sons, Justin and Brian.


Bring tomatoes

Tomato Goddess, 8 x 8 inches, acrylic on paper, 2011.Have you ever grown abundant tomatoes like this? I’ve grown tomatoes but only in St Louis, where it’s hot at night.  Now that I’m living in Denver, I don’t even try.  My dad always responded to anyone who inquired about bringing something to one of our family events, “bring a ham.” I don’t remember anyone actually bringing a ham. 

However, if anyone from the Midwest visits in the summer and asks me if they can bring something from home, “bring tomatoes”.  



The Best Way to Serve a Tomato 
sun warmed tomatoes sliced
a drizzle of olive oil and red wine vinegar
salt & pepper
a little sweet basil or fresh parsley chopped and sprinkled over the top


It’s about the dresses

Golden Years, 10 x 10 inches, acrylic on paper, 2011.My grandmother was a talented and resourceful woman.  I was young when she passed away so my relationship with her is a variety of tiny memories swirling around that occasionally become defined by stories from my older sister or brother. I remember she sewed and she quilted.  I think she moved often and probably never had a home long enough or a yard big enough to establish a large garden. If she could have gardened, I would guess that she would have grown vegetables before she would have invested in flowers. But I like to think that she had a lot of flowers growing and there’s a reason for that assumption.

I am most fortunate to have one of the quilts she made. She was a frugal woman.  She recycled her worn dresses, cutting the best parts from them to piece her quilt tops.  My quilt is a summer garden exploding with every color, surrounded in sunshine, and bordered with a blue sky and points.  Each of those little flower pattern pieces are snapshot memories of my grandmother. As I remember the trim of an apron, or the length of a summer dress, she becomes a real person to me and her love of flowers is fact.  

When I started the series of Women I Might Have Know, I knew something would solidify my project. I’ve made half a dozen Garden paintings now, and I’m pretty sure it’s about the dresses. My Grandma  wore floral print dresses with aprons that had trimmed borders of more flowers. She was from the era of an orchid corsage for Easter, and pretty little caplet hats with flowers for Sunday mornings. I remember that she had a quilt frame that she lowered from the ceiling to move her chair around and stitch. She had a treadle sewing machine that seemed dangerous to me. She had two purses and one of them had Bazooka bubble gum in it, and I believed I was the only one who knew it.  But always when I think of her she is wearing a floral print dress. 

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