The Hunt for More Homesteaders’ Art

The post back in May describing Great-grandma Hattie Shurr’s artwork was followed up by one in July that featured more of her pictures. That second post also includes paintings done by two sisters-in-law in Murray County. This current post is a follow-up on that follow-up. It has a couple more paintings that might be Hattie’s and it expands the list of rural women who produced art in Rock County. Family members have shared stories and pictures produced by two women who lived in Beaver Creek Township in the early twentieth century.

 Do YOU know of any other families who had artistic homesteading ancestors? Do YOU have a great-grandma or a grandma who lived between 1880 and 1920 and painted? Maybe there are more women to be “discovered” than just these five?

Like all of her artwork, Hattie’s pieces aren’t signed or dated. We rely on family traditions and memories to identify her as the artist. Hattie may have produced these two paintings, but we’re not certain. The dark one on the left is a canvas with a house that looks like it might be one her scenes from upstate New York. The painting of pine trees on the right also looks like a New York landscape. But in addition, it has a sticker on the back advertising art supplies. That label is the same as one on a painting that we know she did. So there are some other ways, beyond just family memories, that can be used to identify the artist.

Olla Dunn was born in a sod house in 1873, the first white child born in Beaver Creek Township. She did the charcoal drawing of the mountain scene on the left. Olla’s mother was born in the Green Mountains of Vermont so this landscape may have been a tribute to her mother’s origins. Winnie (Argo) Dunn was Olla’s sister-in-law and was born in 1888. Winnie did sign some of her work including the black and white picture of kittens on the right. In addition, she did colorful still lifes and landscapes. These two sisters-in-law shared an interest in art just like the two sister-in-laws in Murray County. Is there a pattern emerging here? Did rural women provide support for each other in activities that we don’t usually associate with life on the farm?

Winnie did sign the still life on the left, but the one on the right is unsigned. So we have to rely on the collective family memory to attribute that one to her. There’s a great family tradition that says nobody in the town of Hills, MN, was certain about the color of the walls in Winnie’s house because they were covered by paintings. Like Hattie Shurr, Winnie Dunn was a prolific artist. But, there’s another similarity between Hattie and Winnie and that similarity relates to the landscapes that they produced.

Winnie painted both of these bright pieces, but she didn’t sign either one. Although the pictures share a mountain motif with Hattie’s work, they couldn’t be more different. Winnie’s colorful renditions are a startling contrast to Hattie’s more dark and brooding scenery. The differences may be due to their personalities or even the medium that they worked with. But, these two women did share one important attribute: they didn’t paint the landscape around them. It was art inspired by something other than by looking out the window. One of Winnie’s grandchildren shared a family story about her trips to Lake Superior. She suffered from severe hay fever, so in August she would rent an apartment on the North Shore and spent the time painting. But, she didn’t paint the lakeshore! Like Hattie, Winnie took inspiration from her memories and imagination. Maybe there’s another pattern here?

If you know of a rural family that included an artist who worked between about 1880 and 1920, please let me know in the comments section at the bottom of this page. The count is currently five women in two counties. If you’re interested in seeing updates on this search for rural woman artists, please follow this blog. You can do that by clicking the bar that appears in the lower right when you scroll up.  

Thanks to the family of Winnie (Argo) Dunn and Olla Dunn who shared stories as well as the artwork of these two ladies from Rock County. It’s the policy of this blog to protect the privacy of people who are still alive by not giving their names. As always, Margaret’s photography is an integral part of this post

About Lone Tree Farm on Kanaranzi Creek

Recovering academic, earth scientist in phased retirement, farm manager by default, son, husband, father, grandfather.
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