Portrait #16: The Gentleman Farmer

To attempt to paint a portrait of Mr. Leo Whicker, born September 3, 1927, is like trying to harness (with paint and paper) the wisdom of years and experience, coupled with an effortless joy that is surely hard-won through life’s ups and downs.  I have had the privilege of getting to know Mr. Whicker through numerous conversations with him over the past 8 years.  I think I could write a book about him.  Here are a few things I have learned:

The land on which he lives and farms (and which is directly next door to my house and neighborhood), was his grandfather’s land.  At some point, his grandfather sold the land to send a son to law school.  And then, at some point after that, Mr. Whicker (pictured above) bought the land back.  This land encompasses acres and acres and is sprawled in many directions throughout the southern part of Kernersville, in an area known as Sedge Garden.

Mr. Whicker and his wife Martha, had a son and daughter.  Up the hill from where I live, is a small house (now a rental home) where he and his family started out.  As the children grew, he built a larger home for them just yards away, perched on a small rise in the land.  You can see the house here in the charcoal, just a bit of the porch, complete with rocking chairs.

Mr. Whicker’s wife Martha died young, of cancer.  When he speaks of her, you can hear a love and affection for her that leaves you aching and thinking he must still ache and miss his dear wife. Both his son and daughter live in Kernersville and have families of their own. Mr. Whicker is blessed with grandchildren and extended family who live in the area.

In fact, as I’ve been able to gather from Mrs. Gail Smith Love, another neighbor whom I’ve had the privilege of getting to know, Mr. Whicker is considered an Uncle to many from the Smith clan.  She recounts that growing up with Smith land and farms right next to Whicker land, the two families’ children all called the other dads “Uncle”.  So he was Uncle Leo to her and many others.

Mr. Whicker has memories of his grandmother telling him that soldiers used to hide out in caves on their land during the Civil War.  I have a feeling if I could sit for a while with him, I’d hear many stories of historical interest that are tucked away in Mr. Whicker’s vibrant mind.

Mr. Whicker has many barns beside his home.  The barn you see here, and in the above charcoal, can be seen from the road, Silver Dapple Lane. It stores his baled hay on one side, and keeps farm equipment on the other.  You can see a glimpse into the back side of this particular barn in the above portrait of him.  Sitting atop the tractors and equipment are various, huge stuffed animals, such as Kermit the Frog (seen above) and Scooby Doo.  These are here, says Mr. Whicker, to chase away the birds.  Apparently, birds have a bad habit of nesting in the tractor’s engines.  And when he goes to start one of these tractors, the poor birds are lost, and they can cause damage to the equipment.  I wish you could’ve seen the twinkle in his eye as he explained why he had these unexpected furry friends in the barn!

That twinkle in his eye is rooted in his faith.  Leo Whicker is a faithful congregant at Sedge Garden Chapel, just a stone’s throw from his home and farm.  He is, and I suspect has been for most of his life, devoted to worshipping his Creator with the folks in this small and humble church.  Hardly a conversation goes by without him asking me to pray for something on his mind, after inquiring how my husband and children are doing.

There is so much more I could write here.  The description in this post is merely the tip of the iceberg.  Talking with Mr. Whicker (as with other persons of mature years), makes me think I’m in the presence of a stately oak tree.  That tree has seen many years, all kinds of weather, lots of history.  It has withstood storms, change, seasons, “progress”.  It has been rooted in something far more enduring than this world, and its roots are deep and far-reaching.  At first you may only see a trunk and its weathered bark.  But as you get to know the tree, the expanse of the branches and canopy, the gnarled sections leading out to youthful buds and leaves, you realize there is something grand going on here which is very difficult to describe, much less to paint.

Mr. Whicker would never think of himself in this grand manner.  He was indeed a bit reticent about having his picture taken so that I could create a portrait (or two) of him. I just feel that his story needs to be remembered, and that his family would enjoy a painted portrait.

He is indeed, a gentleman farmer.

Portrait #15: Mr. Leo Whicker

 

Last Monday, September 3rd, I was walking in my neighborhood, up near The Field, and I was stopped by my friend and neighbor, Mr. Leo Whicker.

“Jennifah”, he said in his lovely southern accent, “you won’t believe what just happened! You know I love donkeys, right?”

“Well, yes sir, I do remember that! How many do you have now?” I replied.

“Well, I had four, and one of them I have over at my son’s place.  He just now called me to tell me that the donkey has given birth! And today is my birthday! I’m 85 years old today!” he said as his eyes danced like a young boy who had just been to the candy store.

We talked for a bit longer about this treat he had received on his birthday and I walked home to grab my camera.

You see, for some time now, I’ve wanted to paint Mr. Whicker’s portrait.  This is actually one of two portraits of him I am working on.  I knew he was in his 80’s, but didn’t know his exact age.  You would never be able to tell by his appearance or how vigorously he works his farms.  Yes, I said FARMS, plural.  He has at least three different parcels of land on which he raises his cows. But I’ll tell you more about that when I post the next portrait of him.

I loved working from my photo of him with his wonderful smile! I have only slightly exaggerated the blue of his eyes, which truly twinkle when he smiles.  To be 85 years old and still finding such delight in life is indeed remarkable.

Life Is A Garden

Walking down my favorite lane this morning, my thoughts flitted over the empty wheat field, and landed in the garden area near the end of Silver Dapple Lane.  Mr. Whicker has given this end of his field to his tenants who live in homes on his land.  They have a thriving garden full of corn, tomatoes, squash, beans, and tons of other veggie goodies.

The gardeners were out working in the morning cool.  As I walked by I told them how wonderful their garden looked.  The man gardener responded, “We’re just trying to keep up with it!”

Understanding his meaning, I turned to walk back down the lane and reflected on how his phrase was exactly what I’ve been thinking lately, and how very much like a garden, this life we live IS.

There was a time, in the cool of spring and youth, that I prepared the soil (college) in which many seeds would be planted for a future life.  Those young twenties years seemed full of energy to plant and weed and tend the small garden.

But something crazy happens mid-to-late summer…the garden goes POOF and takes off in every direction.  You can’t weed enough, harvest fast enough, prune enough, fight pestilence and drought hard enough.  You lean on your hoe and wonder, “Why did I plant so much?  I can’t keep up with it.”

I’m trying to remember, in my mid-to-late summer life these days, in my POOFED garden, that I am actually only an under-gardener.  (Is that a real word?) There’s a Master Gardener tending the garden of my life, my husband’s life, and our children’s lives.  It ISN’T all up to me.

I just need to keep weeding here and there, watering daily, harvesting what I can, and tending as I’m able.

P.S.  The above drawing was made entirely with Neocolor Watercolor Crayons. Well, except for the little bit of the girl and my name in a waterproof fine-liner.  But did you know, that you can splatter with these crayons??  Here’s how:

Take your wet watercolor brush (fairly wet, but not too sopping) and brush it several times on the tip of the crayon to get the pigment on it.  Then splatter away! Too cool.

Whose Fields These Are

 

Whose fields these are…

 

 

Whose fields these are I think I know…

His house presides o’er fence below.

 

His cattle say their grace each day

Content to watch and eat and stay.

 

The fields, they hum a beckoning tune-

To roam, to fly, to surf their dune,

 

To live with graceful, swaying ease,

To know no bounds, nor responsibilities.

 

To run and play and frolic free,

To chase the butterfly…or not…as you please.

 

Walking away, their song remains,

Though I am bound for my life’s restrain.

 

And as I enter my home’s gate,

I bow my head to plead for grace…

 

To watch and eat and yes, to stay;

To boundlessly live within the fray.

 

May 29, 2010

Jennifer Edwards

**For those of you who have just recently joined me here on Drawn2Life:

My neighborhood is right next to a beautiful farm owned and run by an incredibly young 84 year old man named Mr. Whicker.  You can read more about “My Field” here and here and here.  And for even more, you can click on the category “The Field” over in the right-hand margin.  It is a place of inspiration for me which I frequent every day on my walks and as I drive through it, out into the world.

What We’re Looking For…

Every day, I flip the lime green lid of my iPad, and after some minutes of perusing the latest postings on my Google Reader, browsing through the latest Facebook updates, reading emails, touching base with favorite apps…I begin to wonder, “What is it I’m looking for?”

On Sundays, beginning Saturday evening, I try to take a break from it all.  I try!  It is amazing to notice in oneself the pull of the afore-mentioned things.  To note the lure of “just checking in”.  Really, what is it I’m looking for?

I’ve just returned from a five-mile walk in and around my neighborhood.  I don’t typically do the full 5-mile loop (usually just 2 or 3), but today, I really wanted to be out for a long lovely walk, breathe in the fresh air, hear the leaves rustling as a storm-front begins to roll in.  What is it that lures me out on these walks? What is this siren song that sings to me, calling me to come tromp the paved roads while taking in roadside wildflowers?  It hit me while I was out there…

Inspiration.  Aren’t we all looking for inspiration?  We want to be romanced…and I don’t mean in the gooey, lovey way, but in that classic sense of being wooed and won over by Beauty.  I look for it when I peer into my iPad, I look for it on my walks, I look for it in the faces of my lovely family who has celebrated me on this Mother’s Day in such a touching way.

To say that I would prefer to be out of doors to gazing into a rectangular square gadget would be an understatement.  I often think I could walk and walk and be filled to brimming over with Beauty.  My life doesn’t allow for this.  The key is to go a-gathering…to drink in as much of it as I can, to harvest it if you will, so that I can then spill it over to those I live with and around.  And even perhaps a drop or two of it to you, my blog friend.

It was on an artist’s blog that I found this quote by Wendell Berry.  I cannot for the life of me remember whose it was.  It was weeks ago.  But the poem has stuck with me and has inspired me on many occasion as I recall it to mind.  I’ll leave it with you today…in hopes that you might also choose the outdoors over technology on occasion.  That you might drink in the Beauty even of just a breeze on the skin, or the smell of grass and earth. And that it might restore your worries to a sense that all will be well.  Perhaps you could paint it, draw it, write about it then.  When inspiration comes my way, I just have to translate it somehow in a drawn image…perhaps that’s my way of finally ingesting it into my heart and life.

The Peace of Wild Things

When despair for the world grows in me
and I wake in the night at the least sound
in fear of what my life and my children’s lives may be,
I go and lie down where the wood drake
rests in his beauty on the water, and the great heron feeds.
I come into the peace of wild things
who do not tax their lives with forethought
of grief. I come into the presence of still water.
And I feel above me the day-blind stars
waiting with their light. For a time
I rest in the grace of the world, and am free.

— Wendell Berry

The Sparkle of Fall

Before we leave fall color behind, I wanted you to see two other sketches made near My Field.  Here I’m trying out different mediums, inspired by the One Drawing A Day book I told you about here.  In these I’ve used crayons, just regular ‘ole crayons to draw with, or to put in accents here and there.  The watercolor paint won’t adhere to the paper where wax crayon has been used.

It offers a sparkling effect…enhancing the glowing colors.  In the drawing below, I used the crayon mostly as outline, whereas in the first drawing, crayon is used more for interior accent and texture.  The first sketch is facing the entrance to my neighborhood which is right on the corner of The Field.  The second sketch is 90 degrees to the right of this sign, a conglomeration of color by the road leading into and out of the neighborhood.

I already miss the sparkle of Fall…

Autumn Blaze Continued…

And so, I set my chair down in different spots along Silver Dapple Lane…to see my world from new vantage points.  I’m also varying the tools I use to draw.  We need this, both in life and in our art…to have our eyes refreshed with new vision and to vary how we walk through it.

This view is from down the Lane a bit, with Mr. Whicker’s driveway turning off to the right…do you see his mailbox?  He planted the Autumn Blaze trees along the road as well as down his driveway.  I’m using a calligraphy pen with a cartridge of non-waterproof ink to draw with here as well as in the previous two drawings.  It creates wonderful passages when you go in with the paint…dissolving the ink in places, running it into the colors.

This is a quicker sketch of one of the barns through the blazing trees.  At first I didn’t like this sketch, but it has grown on me…something to do with it’s quick, dashed off look harkening to the hasty demise of Autumn.  I walk along the Lane now and everything is bare.  Wind and rain has completely carried away the dress of Autumn’s Blaze.  There aren’t even any embers on the ground around them.

Though there’s something sad about Fall’s leaving…I do find a strange joy in the bare, stark trees and ground around me.  It feels clean.  Open.  Free of clutter.  Fresh.  Like a new white page in my sketchbook.  I’m looking forward to donning hat and gloves to draw the winter field, to find the Beauty lurking there.

I hope you’ll come along too.

Autumn Blaze…A Gift

“Jennifa”, he says in his lovely southern drawl, “I planted these for my granddaughter.  I told her I planted them so that when I’m gone, she could enjoy their beauty and remember me. They are called, Autumn Blaze.”

Mr. Whicker, 85 years old this fall, stops in his truck often to talk to me on my walks.  He’s a gentleman’s gentleman, a farmer who makes the Energizer Bunny look lazy.  He always asks about my family and then tells me of his, how they’re doing, how proud he is of them. I just had to capture these trees he had planted a few years ago.

To gain perspective, the charcoal drawing here might help you a bit.  The above drawing is of the area of fence to the LEFT of his driveway up to his house. It is not pictured in the charcoal drawing.  But the drawing below, is of the RIGHT of the driveway, you’ll recognize it right away. If you turned around 180 degrees from these views, you would see the Field.  It sits as a second front yard, outside his fenced in front yard, and just across Silver Dapple Lane.

I wonder if Mr. Whicker realizes these trees are a gift to  more than just his granddaughter.  They certainly are a gift to me, and to all who have an eye to enjoy them.  I have a couple more of these Autumn Blaze paintings for you…tomorrow…hope to see you then.

A Field Alive!


As I walked out into the middle of my outdoor studio, the most delightful thing happened.  Walking up to the edge of the field, I could HEAR that the field was alive…that wonderful sound of crickets and whatever else makes those noises we love.  But as I took a step into the field, ten or more “things” went flying, scooting away from each footfall!  As I walked, it looked like a field version of an ocean scene…where schools of dolphin leap and frolic alongside a boat moving through the water.  These were schools of crickets, or grasshoppers (I know not which) bounding and leaping away with each step I took.  I laughed at the delight of it and wondered if they would keep on leaping once I’d set up my chair and started drawing.  Alas, they settled down as well, and I wondered if they were curious about their field visitor.

So…imagine, if you will, from the last post’s drawing, that you are making 90 degree turns to the right in your sketching chair.  The last post’s view was toward Mr. Whicker’s farm, across Silver Dapple Lane.  The first drawing in this post has you looking in the direction of Silver Dapple intersecting with Hastings Hill Rd, with his farm on your left (unseen) and the little dab of road in the upper left corner is the end of Silver Dapple Lane.  The next drawing is another 90 degree turn to the right, now facing across Hastings Hill Rd, where homes begin at Emmaus Rd.

The world of nature, no matter whether it’s suburban or country, always feels alive to me, crickets or no.  Trees, lanes, homes, lawns, wildflowers, skies, clouds, even the weeds, buzz with life.

It always enlivens ME to be out in it.

The Pasture…as seen from My Field

The vantage point I have in my field this particular day, was actually IN the field.  I had set up my folding chair and supplies right in the middle, so as to draw views all around me.  This view is over towards Mr. Whicker’s farm.  His cows were not out that day as they often are, grazing in his fenced in, front yard pasture.  When I’m in my field, I often have this Robert Frost poem running in my head.

The first time I read this poem was in a hand-written note to me by my husband of 23 years.  But at the time of writing, we had just barely begun to get to know each other as seniors at Appalachian State University.  I had tracked down his campus mail-box and was sending him notes filled with my favorite quotes and poems…this was one of the first notes he, the English major, wrote back to me:

The Pasture

By Robert Frost 1874–1963 Robert Frost

//
I’m going out to clean the pasture spring;
I’ll only stop to rake the leaves away
(And wait to watch the water clear, I may):
I sha’n’t be gone long.—You come too.

I’m going out to fetch the little calf
That’s standing by the mother. It’s so young,
It totters when she licks it with her tongue.
I sha’n’t be gone long.—You come too.
Perhaps today, I’ll take my book of Frost’s poetry and my sketchbook up to the Field…to read and draw and “clean the Pasture Spring” of my mind…
You come too!