Friday, March 4, 2011

Homestead's Artist-in-Residence: The Homestead Series

 "The Homestead Series"
by Judy Thompson
2010 Artist in Residence
Artist website:

A Good Days Work. Wind, hail, grasshoppers and fire could all destroy a year’s work for a homesteader. Field work had its rewards when a bountiful harvest arrived safely. In “A Good Days Work” wheat is being stacked on the Nebraska plains.

Plain Women addresses the courage, resourcefulness and determination of the women who championed the settlement of the American West. Leaving homes and hoping for a better future, these women shared in the dreams and struggles of their husbands. These brave pioneers faced the hardships of inadequate housing, food shortages, prairie fires and isolation.

Working Trio.  In order to “prove up,” countless miles were traveled back and forth across the land, turning the prairie landscape into farmland.  This vast transformation could not be accomplished without the help of a faithful, dependable team of horses, oxen or mules.  A mutual relationship of respect developed between homesteaders and their working teams of animals.  Both knew that their survival depended upon each other.

Taking Root.    The first priority to creating a homestead was to make a shelter.  With no trees in sight, sod bricks were the best option.  “Sod busting” was extremely difficult due to the tangle of deeply rooted grasses which comprised the prairie floor.  Despite their crude appearance, a sod house remained cool in the summer, warm in the winter and offered better protection from wind and prairie fires than its wooden counterpart.

Sunday Drive. Owning land brought the hope of security, wealth and permanence. What greater satisfaction could a homesteader have, than to survey his 160 acres of land, purchased for $1.25 per acre with the additional investment of 5 years of backbreaking labor!

Editor's Note: Judy was an Artist in Residence in August of 2010. This blog is a continuation of her exploration of the Homestead Act and the Great Plains.

As Judy explained in her earlier blog, "Through my watercolor landscapes, I attempt to capture not merely a likeness of my subject, but also a “sense of place.” The Artist-in-Residence Program provided me with the unique opportunity to explore the history of the homesteaders while being immersed in the native tallgrass prairie. My goal was to create a series of watercolor paintings depicting the prairies during the time of the first homesteaders. My time at the monument included researching existing photos and records, as well as taking my own photos, and creating onsite sketches of the park environment. These references were used to create compelling compositions of the homestead era."

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