208 Chapter Six Sylvan Hills of Sycamore Introduction Olin lived

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208 Chapter Six Sylvan Hills of Sycamore Introduction Olin lived Powered By Docstoc

                                       Chapter Six
                                 Sylvan Hills of Sycamore


       Olin lived in love with Nature. He marveled at teasing lights, brilliant sumac

leaves against a dewy log, and languid turquoise pools ringed with frothy jade. He carried

his easel and paint-box beyond home and hearth, tempted by wilderness and waterways

into peaks and vales of color textured by the senses. The world was his to place against

the canvas and brush in pigment creams. Each new day compelled him to capture its

fragments with what he called his daubs and smears, and as the scent of mulberry stirred

under the valley breeze and fresh air caressed his canvas, he coaxed from his palette the

mist and smoke of fire against a cooling air.

       Olin found Nature nesting in the divine lines of creation, amid nooks, crannies,

and the spiraling measures of an epic cosmos. He learned to harness the lines and

numbers mothering perfection, inviting them to enliven an imaginative world of turtle

steeds and earthen giants with whimsical grace. He found a discipline and method in

Nature that aided him as he dusted the high plains of spiritual wastelands with feathering

cirrus clouds.

       Nature breathed life into his art, nurturing his love for a young woman born in the

hills of Arkansas. It pulled them together on a star-crossed path, high on the mossy bluffs

of Randall Reed Mountain above the Great Mulberry. They were a tangle of love born of

art and nature, and art born of love and nature. It was their nature and destiny to live with

abandon, as both hero and villain in passionate service to one another.

       As a child, Olin scampered the fields of a fledgling Dallas and hunted with his

younger brother, Arthur. Each Thanksgiving, the family of eight piled aboard their wagon

and journeyed half a day from Holmes Street to picnic in the pecan orchards near White

Rock Lake. The orchards would later give way to the neighborhood of 8343 Santa Clara,

where he made his home in his waning years, and where I came to write his story. He

sailed the chilly waters of Michigan and the everglades of Florida and hiked and rode

horseback through the Ozark Mountains. He fished the swamps of Padre Island, roamed

the hills of Oregon and Canada, and motored his way through New England. With each

journey, he gathered his sense of liberation and ease with the wild, and placed to his

canvas a mingling of natures, of earth, order, and inspiration.

The Morgan “Pathfinder”

       After graduating from the Chicago Art Institute in 1914, Olin was awarded the F.

W. Morgan Traveling Scholarship. It’s unclear whether this was an annual award or a

one-time award created specifically for him, for Morgan36 was not only a trustee at the

institute, but his son Ernest was Olin’s closest friend. The “scholarship” allowed Olin to

sail with the father and son aboard the $100,000.00 steam yacht Pathfinder, and the three

spent a merry year sailing not only the Great Lakes of Michigan and Canada, basing out

of the Morgan home in Chicago, but also the coast of Florida, where the Morgans

maintained their second home in Clearwater. In his first letter to Bess on March 23, 1914,

Olin writes: “a wealthy man of Chicago wanted to get some of the tricks of the trade

 Frederick W. Morgan was a rubber and bicycle wheel magnate. The Fred W. Morgan
Memorial Building in Chicago is named after him.

(learning to paint) and I am offering suggestions. I am living on the fat of the land,

playing golf, fishing, motoring and painting.”

       F. W. Morgan was also the Commodore of the Chicago Yacht Club, and

Pathfinder was one of the largest, finest, and fastest yachts of the era with a substantial

sailing reputation and the cups to prove it. Morgan had offered it to the government in

1898 in the event of a war with Spain, for it was capable of carrying three to four rapid

fire guns (“Fine Yacht for War Use”). By the time Olin joined them on deck, the

Morgans used it more simply for fishing and general recreation. Of one brilliant, sunny,

early spring morning, Olin wrote:

               I was sitting on the dock making a sketch of the fisherman’s boat house,
               his boat, and the deep blue of Lake Michigan. Piled on the dock were two
               stacks of large boxes, with handles, used to carry fish. A man was busy
               painting the boxes a bright red. One stack he had completed and he was
               starting on the second. I had an audience. I had finished putting the red
               boxes in my picture. “What color are these other boxes,” I asked the
               audience, pointing to the ones I had not yet put in the picture. “He ain’t
               painted them yet,” someone said. “But I want them in my picture,” I said,
               “I’ve got to mix the color for them.” A voice, “Brother, you are just going
               to have to leave them out, they ain’t [got] no color. (Portrait Painting 87)

       When they weren’t on sketching expeditions, Ernest and Olin shared their

painting experiences through correspondence. Many letters from Ernest describe a special

day’s outing as exampled by this passage:

               Oh, man—I am enthusiastic about this color business—The colors down
               here are fine—especially in early morning and late afternoon—I’d like to
               paint in morning in amongst the little hardwood trees that are covered with
               moss—The cool green and blue atmosphere underneath them is just great.
               Yesterday I made a sketch in these woods looking thru the trees about
               1000 ft to a little white house with the sun on it—Yea-B-O-some picture!
               (January 8, 1918)

          In early 1922, Olin joined the Morgan family for almost two months at their

Clearwater home and aboard Pathfinder, leaving Bess and their newborn infant Jean

behind at their studio in Chicago. The trip was perhaps ill-timed, but the Morgans were

not only friends, but patrons whose opportunities were ignored to his artistic and financial

detriment. Indeed, Olin writes that he completed over 50 paintings and sketches on the

trip, and some of his most charming paintings emerged from his times in Clearwater

aboard Pathfinder.

          Olin missed his little family terribly during the separation and his 1922 extended

visit resulted in letters to Bess as caring and despairing as they had been during the

courtship. He spent a nervous two months worrying about her, for her letters did not

arrive until in a single bundle at the end of his trip. Bess reported that little Jean cried

constantly, and the doctor found the two-month-old to be six pounds underweight.

          Olin wrote 21 letters to Bess during his 1922 voyage around the coast of Florida,

telling of his experiences and mishaps along the way. The men37 often sailed in the

moonlight and fished off the side of the boat. In one letter written to Bess, Olin included

a sketch of a porpoise which they had harpooned and which took over an hour to haul in

and then had to be shot. Realizing too late that they had no need for it, the two friends

were sobered by the unnecessary violence and thereafter confined themselves to fishing

with poles and attending to their sketching.

          Though Mr. Morgan died in 1921, Mrs. Morgan, their daughter Dorothy (“the

Captain’s Daughter” with whom Olin had shared a casual flirtation), and Ernest and his

     Aboard the Pathfinder were Olin, Ernest, the captain “Sam” and a boy, Raleigh.

wife Lillian remained Olin’s lifelong friends.38 Ernest joined Olin on several expeditions

in the Ozark Mountains, and often their antics find their way into Olin’s oral histories.

The Morgan family played a significant role in his development as an artist, offering

opportunities that he would otherwise have never enjoyed under his own financial and

social constraints, but above all, their greatest generosity was their friendship.

The People of the Ozark Hills

       In many ways, Bess bridged the cultural divide between the ragged elegance of

the Ozarks and the quasi-cosmopolitan intellectualism that was Olin’s world. She carried

her own sophistication, yet was no slouch when it was time to hike or camp. Her love of

the nature and flowers drew her into a genre of floral and landscape paintings, and by

extension studied the herbal properties and mythical associations of every plant that she

could. Her most personal notebook contained not only special reflections, but also her

notes on over 500 plants and flowers, and her expertise led various newspaper articles to

reference her as an acclaimed wildflower folklorist. One of my favorite childhood

memories is of a hike near Mon Jeau, outside of Ruidoso, New Mexico, where Bobbie

Bess carefully tutored me to find the best maple branches and leaves to gather for her

painting, Autumn Leaves.

       Artemesian in her approach to the outdoors, Bess not only introduced Olin to the

hills of Arkansas, but she also introduced him to the people, and from the first trip made

   When my father was born in 1931, he was originally named “Ernest Hail Travis” after
Ernest Morgan. When my grandparents divorced, my grandmother legally changed my
father’s name to David, claiming that the original name sounded like “Ernest’s Tail,”
though some suspect the change may have held an element of reprisal against Olin.

with Harry Aronson in 1912, he was captivated by both people and place. It’s been over

ninety years since Olin hiked the hills with Harry, Ernest, and Bess, trapping squirrels

and rabbits, and cleaning fish for a tasty meal over a piñon fire or a stove, whichever was

nearest. Together they lived on the cusp of the frontier and the modern world, in days

where one took a car to town and returned by horse or in a springless wagon. The hill

people of Arkansas were far removed from the “modern world” of cars, theatres, yachts

and private schools, yet I find no hint of superiority demonstrated by Olin and his friends.

With rare ease born of curiosity and appreciation for the aesthetically interesting, they

simply invited them into their midst and became their friends.

       While visiting the Hail family when Bess was away in Russellville making hats,

Olin somehow pulled himself from his lovesick blues and went into the hills to sketch.

These encounters and others are richly described on his oral history interviews with my

cousin Paddie. Collected for a college paper in Folklore and Anthropology, the stories

tumble over one another and through the course of several hours by Paddie’s count, he

provides over 40 stories on her tapes alone. Many times he references the superstitions of

the backwoods people of Arkansas, and directs Paddie to a book which was at hand

during the interview.39 Yet Olin’s personal stories of the mountain people, shared

conversationally with my beloved cousin are particularly cherished, for his own words

carry his sense of excitement, his drawl, and emphasis particular to his own experience.

His experiences are thus far better related through his own voice than through my own


  Within moments of Googling a passage quoted in his interview, I located the book,
Ozark Superstitions by Vance Randolph, and within days, a pristine 1947 first edition
was delivered to my home for a mere six dollars. This book of Olin’s own choosing,
nicely supplements his interview on Ozark culture of the era.

       In one segment, Olin describes the sunbonnets of the women he was so fond of

painting, such as are seen in the paintings, Whither, Cooking Sorghum/Grinding Cane,

Sunbonnet Woman, and The Ash Hopper. Olin’s personal collection of Ozark slat bonnets

has disappeared, but his commentary on them is instructive:

               The women, their clothes, the sunbonnets were a mark of, of distinction
               in a sense. They separated what you were doing. You had a different
               sunbonnet, a woman had a different sunbonnet for every activity. For
               working in the field, for going to church and going to the store or going
               to a funeral, and they were sometimes great big things, see, snow white
               with a great big ruffle around here, and a big sort of a cape on it, and
               there were slatted bonnets which they wore when they worked in the
               field which came way out in front of their face and shaded their face and
               wore a black, wore a black ah, knitted ah, things over their arms to keep
               their arms from getting sunburned—some of them. (O. Travis, interview
               with Patterson 6)

       Olin tells of two teachers newly out of college, who walked up a mountain to find

the trustee to apply for their first post. The trustee immediately gave them the job without

questions, simply because the young women had persisted in making the trek. Perhaps

they replaced another teacher described by Olin:

               We had, right up above us on the top of the hill was a country school,
               and the woman that taught the school went barefooted. She was about 45
               or 50 years old, and she dipped stuff and she spit underneath the stove
               and she taught all of the—all of the different kids, you see. There must
               have been about 25 or 30 kids of all ages—grown and little tiny ones,
               and she was the only school teacher. And I remember one time she said
               she had to go into town and see where “them thar grammars were at.”
               (O. Travis, interview with Patterson 2)

The educational level of the teacher provides a necessary insight into the literacy and

educational level of other members of the community. Olin’s tale of a man named

Castleman Carol provides another interesting example among many:

               [. . .] we climbed up on top of the mountain to paint this early morning
               sunrise picture, and uh, we came across this man and a woman sawing
               down a tree with a big ol’ crosscut saw, you know. And lying over under

                another bush there was a baby, flies buzzing all around it, you know, and
                the woman was about 50 years old, and the man was about 20, 21 or 2.
                And that was his wife. And uh, we got well acquainted with them—he
                took us up to his house, and his wife left for some reason or another, and
                he pulled out from under the bed, a box, a small trunk-like box, full of
                poetry that he had written, and this poetry, the main characteristic of it
                was that it rhymed. But it had—oh, some of it was some of the most
                poignant material in there, you know, and he told about how his girl had
                jilted him, and how he had married this woman and all about their baby
                and everything was all in this poetry. [. . .] this poetry was all written on
                …old school tablets, this pulpy sort of paper. [. . .]

                [They were] misspelled words and everything—and I traded him a picture
                for a book of this poetry that he had written. And, uh, it got burned up
                with all the rest of the stuff that got burned up in Ozark. (O. Travis,
                interview with Patterson 3)

        The fire occurred in 1934, and because it occurred in the darkest days of the

Travis divorce, it was whispered to be the work of Maude Hail with Olin’s studio bearing

the brunt of the damage. This version may liven the story, but my father remembers that

the sparks from the train rails lit the nearby grass, and that the Hails lost their entire home

in the blaze.

        Of particular interest are the stories of Billy James, about whom Olin’s stories

combine the element of education with the challenges of uncompromising morality:

                Oh we had, ah, we had, our nearest neighbor up on top of the mountain,
                was a man named Billy James. And Billy James was an educated man. He
                had learned to read. Now most of the people in all that district couldn’t
                read. Very few of them could read or write, but Billy James could read.
                And he had bought books from Montgomery Ward, and his house was
                lined with books, but he had never learned to pronounce anything. He
                could read it you know. He says, “I been sunk in in-e-QUIT-ee.” Now that
                means, “I’ve been sunk in iniquity.” See? “I been sunk in in-e-QUIT-ee.”
                And he used all, he mispronounced all sorts of words. And he was … he’d
                read Karl Marx. And I’ve sat on the porch and talked Karl Marx to him,
                and his wife would be out with the mules doing the plowing. She did all
                the work. He didn’t do darn thing but sit around and speculate about the
                state of humanity and everything, and he was, of course, completely
                illiterate, and no logic, just a mass of a conglomeration of information
                he’d picked up from this stuff he was reading.

               [. . .] And uh, he was very religious, and he had once played the violin,
               and he had his fiddle, and broke it over a stump, and he didn’t believe in
               music, see, it was thing of the devil. And he said to us, said, “I’m gonna
               raise my children fer away from the seductive fascinations of the world.
               I’ve been down to Ozark, and Saturday night and seen the lights all lit,
               and the fellas takin’ the girls to the drug store.” That was to him was the
               bottom of the barrel, you see! (O. Travis, interview with Patterson 6)

       Billy James and his supply of tobacco also make for the following colorful tale

which integrates several stories into one as Olin tells:

               [. . .] well I ran out of tobacco, and Billy James, that’s the one that sat on
               his porch and, and ah, didn’t do any of the work, his wife would chop the
               wood, and then do all the plowing and cooking and everything, and, oh,
               she wrote a column. Ah, he wrote it for her, and then signed with her name
               and it was all against feminism, and he’d published in the Ozark daily
               paper, I mean weekly paper, he had a column in the weekly paper,
               “Country Folks Doin’s.”

               Well, he had ah, I ran out tobacco, and ah, smoking a pipe, you know.
               Most cigarettes back then, at that time, you know—SIN to smoke
               cigarettes. Ah, so I ah, he said, knew I was back there, says, “I don’t use
               the weed myself, I don’t dulge in the weed myself, but I raised some for
               the old woman,” so he took me out to the barn, and here was this
               tobacco hanging up there, long yellow leaves, see, where he’s drying it
               out for her, and he gave me several leaves of this stuff, and so I’d
               crumble some up and put it in my pipe and boy it nearly blew the top of
               my head off. I’m telling you, if you ever, if you ever think a cigarette
               has a remote resemblance to real tobacco, you’re mistaken. Raw tobacco
               is, is ah, is just simply terrific in its force, it’s ah, I get dizzy. I didn’t try
               to smoke any more, because I just did without it. (O. Travis, interview
               with Patterson 11)

Olin’s narrative shifts to other forms of tobacco which he’s experienced:

               Oh, when we were kids around here in Dallas, we smoked anything we
               could get our hands on. Ah, not long ago, I saw a picture of marijuana,
               ah, and I didn’t know, I’d never ah, seen what it looked like, and we
               used to smoke it when we were kids, we called it “Rabbit Tobacca”
               (laughter) and it would make us dizzy as a mischief, you know, and
               we’d sit around and get, (laughter) dizzy and think we were being smart
               (laughter) but we also smoked string, and coffee, and buggy whip.
               Buggy whip, lo—ong buggy whip which you use is made out some sort
               of porous vi-ine of some sort, it’s very limber, see, an eh, eh, if the

               buggy whip hasn’t gotten broken, why it’s discarded, and you can chop
               it up in little pieces and light it and smoke it. So we smoked buggy whip
               and grape vine and ah, all, oh generally rolled your own you see (p), but
               it’s harmless. (O. Travis, interview with Patterson 11)

Indeed, Olin’s “city” life held its own elements of invention by necessity, and he found

much to share with his friends in the mountains.

       Billy James is of particular interest as it was perhaps his cabin which Olin and

Bess eventually would acquire on the top of Magazine Mountain. Olin describes the

cabin in some detail within his interviews with my cousin Paddie, yet his explanation

raises as much mystery as it shares answers:

               I had a cabin up there, I bought ah, for a hundred and four dollars. I had
               a cabin. I had a hundred and six acres. Forty acres were in cultivation.
               The rest of it was in virgin hardwood timber. There was a greeeeat big
               spring on it, a waterfall about as high as this ceiling, and a pool about
               twice as big as this porch with ice cold running water. It’d never known
               to go dry. And it was the hardest thing to get to you can image. There
               was a two-room log cabin, fireplace and everything. [. . .]

               That was in 1916. And ah, the government confiscated it. The
               government made a national park out of a whole bunch of the Ozarks,
               and this was right in it, see? And they gave me two hundred and eight
               dollars for it. I doubled my money on it. [. . .] But Oh! How I wish I had
               that place now. [. . .]

               William Lester went up there and stayed a whole summer in this cabin
               when I had it. I never did even stay there. (O. Travis, interview with
               Patterson 17)

Though he remembers purchasing the cabin in 1916, the couple was not married until

November of that year, and both their letters and Bess’s journal entries indicate that they

were still hoping for a cabin as late as 1918 when they moved to Chicago. Strange to

think that in the space of fifteen or so years, Olin would never stay in the cabin of which

they has so long dreamed, yet earlier in the interview, he mentions that he painted a

painting hanging in his home from the porch of the cabin he had on the top of Magazine

Mountain, a process that surely would involve staying there. At the time of their divorce

in 1934, Olin writes Bess of the government’s intention to purchase the land, which he

calls, “the James place.” I look to my wall at Olin’s painting, Billy James’s House at

Cass Arkansas, hoping for more clues regarding this charming property which for so long

carried the hopes and dreams of Olin and Bess.

       The James family shares their Ozark ancestry with that of the Turners, whose

stories tangle throughout Olin’s interview with my cousin Paddie. There were so many

tales that I sought and found the Turners of my own times, now genealogists with a

family tree that seems to hold within its branches all the names of the Ozark hills.

Through our emails, they have shared their own stories, and their long-held pride that

Phoebe Turner is depicted in The Ash Hopper by Olin Travis. Though Olin makes no

reference to the painting, family itself was of particular interest:

               Well, uh, there was, our neighbors distant from there were the Turners.
               The Turners were over 90 years old, and Mrs. Turner had never been more
               than eight miles from the house she lived in and she was 93 years old.
               They had 108 grandchildren. They had a reunion. They had 108
               grandchildren. They had 10 children. One of ‘em had 22 children. One had
               18. The one that had 18, I used to go down, walk down to her house and
               buy some butter whenever I got any money—and she’d be sitting on the
               porch joggin’ a kid on her knee—and I went down there one time to get
               some butter, and she wasn’t there, and I said, “Where’s Ms. Turner?”
               Said, “well, Pa knocked her hip down.” And you know she’s having
               another baby, you see, and, uh, so, uh, she was married three times—she’s
               the one—she had 18 children, and her present husband was younger than
               her oldest son. She had met him when he came over to play marbles with
               the kids. That’s the kind of people, now, Old Man Turner owned half the
               valley—he couldn’t read, he couldn’t write, and he uh, he signed “X” for
               his name, but these people were smart, tremendously smart—completely

               [. . .] Ms. Turner, the old lady I was telling you about, she went
               barefooted all the time, and she had a couple of feet that looked like
               country-cured hams, enormous, and just all brown and worn and big
               calluses on ‘em, and she was ah, she and her husband, I said to ol’ man

               Turner, I said, what’d he owe his long life to? He says, “Never drank
               coffee,” and the old lady come up, says, “I’m a year older than he is and
               I drink coffee every day!” (O. Travis, interview with Patterson 6)

       The Turner family shared many old family photos of those who appear in Olin’s

tales and paintings, fleshing the tales with image, and image with tale. Their photos of

Sam and Phoebe Turner are a supplementing gift to Olin’s stories of the mountain

communities. Olin’s tale of the Turner daughter demonstrates the will and steadfast

morality with which they led their lives:

               Oh, I wanted to go back and paint, and their oldest daughter was about
               75 or something like that or 72 or 3, and she was a widow, named Ms.
               Childers, and she had a pretty good-sized cabin and she’d raised some
               kids, you know, all grown away, you know, and she’s living there all by
               herself. So I said to Ms. Turner, I said, “I’d like to come up there and
               paint in the fall, but I don’t want to have camp, I want to board with
               somebody, and do you suppose I could stay with Ms. Childers?” Says,
               “Is your wife comin’ with ya?” I said, “I was—come alone,” Says,
               “Can’t do it, wouldn’t be right.” Stay with a 72 year old widow would
               just be unthinkable. (O. Travis, interview with Patterson 6)

       Many of Olin’s stories emphasized the self-sufficiency of these rural individuals.

Often his was the first automobile or the first canned food to be seen in the area, and on

several occasions he describes the mystery he was to them. There are stories of industry

and sloth, skill and unwitting mishaps. He tells of habits and superstitions, people who

drew his attention through some special peculiarity, and of others whose personality

captured his heart. Of another of the Turner relatives, Olin tells:

               I painted Old Mrs. Russell, and she was 83 years old, and lived all alone.
               Her family married and all moved away, and she lived on a house, built up
               on the bank of a creek. And never in her life had the creek gotten out of its
               banks. But she woke up one night and heard a noise, and she stepped out
               of her bed into ankle-deep water. It’d come a cloudburst up in the hills,
               and ah, and she had ah, she had no idea what had happened. I said, “Ms.
               Russell, weren’t you scared to death?” Said, “Well, I ‘lowed as how I
               might be gettin’ to be drownded, but I made up my mind I wasn’t gonna
               get drownded scared to death.”

               And she made her own garden, she killed her own pigs, cured her own
               hams, she did all that work and she was 83 years old, worked out there
               all by herself. So I’ve still got a painting of her, and ah, she said, “What
               do you want to paint me for, I’m so old and ugly.” I said, “Ms. Russell, I
               don’t think you’re ugly a’tall!” And I thought, I thought she was a
               wonderful looking old woman, see. So I wouldn’t let her see it till I got
               through with it, and she came around and looked at it, and said, “Well, I
               knew I was old and ugly, but I shore didn’t think I was that old or that
               ugly!” (O. Travis, interview with Patterson 9)

       Olin was well aware that he was a colorful character, but to the Ozark people his

artistic ways were as odd as his modernity and education. He tells of a woman who sat

under the trees while he painted, then sent her children to ask if he could stop long

enough for them to pass. The locals were ever helpful, cutting down trees that seemed to

block his view, and in one instance, clearing away the entire subject of his painting:

               I was painting at one time on the corner of the fence, and this was in the
               fall, when I’d been out there more toward the tail end of the summer,
               and the sumac had begun to red, and there was a row of fence, you know
               this, these kind of fences. And the sumac growing all up in there and
               way across in the distance, mountains. So I had a big canvas, one of my
               few big canvasses, and I’d drawn this all in rather than paint it, and I
               came, and a farmer came along and was watching me. I came back the
               next day and he’d cleaned everything out, see. And he said, “I saw the
               mess in the corner there and thought I’d clean it out for you.” So my
               sumac was all gone, see? Everything that I was gonna do! (O. Travis,
               interview with Patterson 7)

       Many of Olin’s stories of the local hill folk point to their unconsciousness about

the beauty of the area, and particularly, their own role in that beauty. One family saved a

few steps hauling firewood by cutting down an ancient white elm that graced their

property. Their own role in the aesthetic was entirely unconscious and perhaps was the

key to their appeal.

       Yet, Olin and Bess were keenly aware of the holistic charm, and paid tribute to

the Ozark landscape and culture through many of their paintings. It was this appreciation

and special resonance which led Mrs. Kiest to once suggest that his paintings would

become the seminal works by which the Ozarks would be revealed to the world. Olin, as

much as Bess, captured the women at work, homesteads with tilled fields and smoke

drifting from cabins with their dirt floors. Together, they painted sunsets, woodland

groves, the Frying Pan River and the great Mulberry Valley. They captured weary

women at their daily chores, old men cooking over fires and chatting over fences. Indeed,

this special appreciation for the people and their culture makes Olin’s Arkansas paintings

a unique and particularly vibrant collection, for they are steeped in a warm and loving

energy born of his days with Bess in the Ozark Mountains.

       Cooking sorghum, (1926). Nearest to my heart is Cooking Sorghum, (Plate X) a

beautiful painting even before one looks to its obvious offerings of metaphor and the

alchemical processes lifting in the steam and flame. The painting bubbles and simmers

with a heritage of memories peering from the soft smoke of the warming fire. It carries a

warm hospitality to the rich cultural loam of the Ozarks, all in a single canvas, for it holds

the story of my grandparents, and is the home and hearth of their heart. I’m blessed that it

hangs upon my wall, for its colors and textures work their magic and give me joy even

before I begin my journey.

       Beyond Olin’s canvas, Cooking Sorghum, the sorghum maker appears in the least

likely places. I found tiny black and white photos of him nestling amid my grandmother’s

recipes, the gray steam all but obscuring the cook at his task. I found a similar version of

18the sorghum maker, painted by Bess. Even more poignant was the discovery that Olin

replicated his painting in the lower left edge of Man’s Interdependence, (Plate 24) the

Plate 24: Cooking Sorghum, 1926. Oil on canvas, 18 x 24 in. Collection of Susan L.

famous “food mural” at Long Elementary School in Dallas, Texas. Amid a sea of clues,

each discovery holds little meaning in and of itself until the versions are seen as each part

of a telling whole. The tiny photos of an old man stirring over his fire would mean

nothing without the paintings, and without the paintings, the warm fires of the Long

school mural are just another vignette amid the industry depicted above the library

shelves. One after another, each appearance amplifies and reiterates elements of Olin’s

story, the fire of transformation, the folk of the hills, and the elements of nature.

       I doff my hat to what this painting makes of a recipe of steam and mist and smoke

and the sweet scent of cane drifting in swirls and periwinkle clouds. Through his

depiction of the sorghum maker, Olin’s juxtaposition of warm and cool colors is both

literally and symbolically beautiful. He has placed sea foam in the mist, and a sunset in

the fire, integrating the four elements of Mother Earth; sorgos grass pulled from the

ground, melted by fire, and steamy water caught in the rising air above the pan. The

cook’s stiff, marionette-like pose stooping at the fire emphasizes that the painting is far

less about the cook than about the experience. It is not the anonymous sorghum maker

who is alive, but the fire, the steam, the cloud, and the cane. They are everywhere,

permeating outward so that the viewer feels the cool bite of the morning air, the warmth

of fire, and the moist steamy sizzle and pop of the sorghum.

       The sorghum maker transforms. He stokes the forging fires of Hephaestus, the

only working god who by his sweat, civilizes nature. He stirs, carefully lifting the

sweetness from the pan, transforming cane into first syrup then sugar, for cooking is the

chemistry of our daily lives. Today, the cook’s shadow is the “meth cook” hiding in a

trailer transforming cleansers to hallucinogens, a sinister Rumplestiltskin spinning straw

to bullion. The cook is creator, a metaphor, as one thing becomes another, as mankind

seeks new recipes to stir and cook, experimenting with the ingredients of creativity and

destruction, never knowing when the controlled environment may become the means to

their own destruction. From the Los Alamos laboratories of New Mexico to witches

brews replete with eye of newt, from pregnancy to resurrection, transformation is the

guiding dynamic of both physical and spiritual existence.

       Cooking Sorghum carries myth and history, chemistry and archetype. It carries the

story of a man in the teal mists of the Ozarks, cooking the season’s sorghum as a message

of alchemy. It carries transformative lessons from epiphany to shadow, and begs for its

own contemplative space beyond these pages. Yet its particular gift is as a portal to a

mystery far less obvious than one might expect.

       Cooking Sorghum speaks of Olin’s fascination with the compositional process of

“dynamic symmetry,” a system of composition based on natural principles of proportion

found in a mathematical formula known as “the golden section.” Olin’s compositional

structure is deliberate and discernable, and thus offers a new world of lessons, at least for

me. The specifics of the process carry some controversy, as noted by Dr. Ruth Pasquine:

               While today people publish indiscriminately about the wide use of the
               golden section in antiquity and in the renaissance, there are many art
               historians out there, and other scholarly types, who would argue against
               it. [. . .] . There is almost no interest in dynamic symmetry in the
               scholarly literature now, and its application to Greek and Egyptian art is
               actually highly controversial [. . .]. Thankfully the mathematicians have
               confirmed at least that Hambidge's mathematics are sound. (Email to
               author. October 18, 2008)

       Regardless of its current standing, Olin’s appreciation of the process gives it voice

within this work, as he gave it voice within his paintings. In November 2005, I met an art

collector who, through his favoring of symbolic paintings, knew of Olin’s interest in

dynamic symmetry. Just when it seemed I was nicely making my way in the world with a

Quicken program and Excel spreadsheet, I was compelled to take up a compass and ruler

and to follow this new path that geometrically integrates nature, art, spirituality, and the

science of numbers. I found a guide, Dr. Ruth Pasquine, who navigated our journey

through a shared series of emails that spanned several months. Pasquine’s previous work

with dynamic symmetry40 focused on its use within the works of the renowned Taos

artist, Emil Bisttram, whose path crossed Olin’s many times throughout their careers. Of

the origins of the process, Pasquine writes:

               These correlations were being written about frequently beginning about
               1918. Jay Hambidge, who essentially invented dynamic symmetry, was
               also an artist. He lectured widely about the application of this system
               for artists. His major presentation of dynamic symmetry was at the Art
               Institute of Chicago where he gave the Scammon Lectures in 1921.
               These lectures were widely attended by artists and received a lot of
               coverage in the local newspapers. It was undoubtedly during this period
               that Olin became introduced to dynamic symmetry. Hambidge made
               many claims for this system, most interestingly that he had
               "rediscovered" it because it had been used by the Egyptians and the
               Greeks. (Email to author. October 15, 2008)

       Olin’s affinity for dynamic symmetry perhaps emerged in the wake of

Hambidge’s lecture,41 but regardless of its origin, his use of it as a compositional tool is

remembered not only by his students, but also by my father, who recalls Olin talking

about the process as an instructor. While there are no records, grids, or diagrams to show

Olin’s compositional plans, I enter a precious, worthwhile journey as I explore the

  Ruth Pasquine is author of "The Politics of Redemption: Dynamic Symmetry,
Theosophy, and Swedenborgianism in the Art of Emil Bisttram (1895-1976)," a PhD
dissertation published by City University of New York in 2000.
  Shortly after Olin and Kathryne returned to Chicago, Jay Hambidge presented his
lecture “Further Evidences of Dynamic Symmetry in Greek Architecture” on April 29,
1921 at the Chicago Art Institute.

paintings to recover framework corresponding to the principles of dynamic symmetry.

Indeed, one of the fundamental principles of the process is that the formulas exist in

nature as a naturally occurring phenomenon and may be used unconsciously in executing

geometric compositions.

       Olin is among many artists, architects, and musicians whose appreciation for

geometrical aesthetic qualities led them to proportion their works according to the

formulas of the golden ratio. Of its natural occurrences, Pasquine writes:

               It is worth noting that in dynamic symmetry the diagonal is considered
               to be the most vital element of the square and the rectangle. The
               diagonal gives thrust, direction, and energy to the action of the picture.
               The golden section, which is embedded in the root five rectangle, is also
               embedded in life forms including the logarithmic curve or spiral, also
               called the constant angle spiral, the Fibonacci series, or the summation
               series; it is found in nature in the flow of water draining out of a sink, a
               coin rolling on the floor, and the curves of the nautilus shell and the
               ram's horn. (Email to author. October 15, 2008)

Similarly, Hambidge begins his book, Elements of Dynamic Symmetry: “The basic

principles underlying the greatest art so far produced in the world may be found in the

proportions of the human figure and in the growing plant (xi).” Indeed, Hambidge

understood the geometrical application in a broader context that integrated history and

philosophy in ways which had a lasting impact on the arts:

               The Christians struggled for a moral, the Greeks for an intellectual
               law. The two ideals must be united to secure the greatest good. As
               moral law without intellectual direction fails, ends in intolerance, so
               instinctive art without intellectual mental control is bound to fail, to
               end in incoherence. In art the control of reason means the rule of
               design. Without reason art becomes chaotic. Instinct and feeling must
               be directed by knowledge and judgment. (Elements of Dynamic
               Symmetry xvii)

Olin, too, often and strongly argued that instinct and talent must be buttressed by sound

structural underpinnings.

       With these observations at hand, I began my lessons on the Root 5 rectangle, the

Golden Spiral, extreme and mean ratios, and other components of Hambridge’s

compositional mathematics made available for application by artists. Ruth Pasquine

began: “Dynamic symmetry utilizes a series of rectangles that all fit together

harmonically, based on the golden section rectangle. By using the specified ratios, an

internal rhythm is set up within the composition” (Personal Email. October 15, 2008). We

found that our first lesson corresponded to that of Hambidge regarding the Root 5

Rectangle, and that the Root 5 construct corresponded to the compositional structure of

Cooking Sorghum (Plate 26). Pasquine describes the lines that comprise this structure:

               In the case of "Cooking Sorghum," the artist has utilized three root
               five rectangles stacked on top of each other, so that in rectangle
               ABCD, the first root five rectangle is ABEF, the second is EFGH, and
               the third one is GHCD. Also note that each of these rectangles is
               further broken down into five [proportionally] smaller ones, so there is
               essentially a grid of 15 rectangles. Each of these 15 rectangles can be
               further broken down into five root five rectangles.

               It is clear that the artist distributed the three primary compositional
               elements -- the roof, the people and the stove -- into the three large
               root five rectangles, with the roof in the upper rectangle, the people in
               the middle rectangle, and the stove in the lower rectangle.
               Additionally, the artist used one of the diagonals of the upper root five
               rectangles (EB) for the direction of the roof line. Furthermore the
               placement of the upper body of the main figure is aligned along one of
               the diagonals (CK) of the middle root five rectangle. (Personal Email.
               October 15, 2008)

       There, in a feast of color and texture, presumably through Olin’s intention, the

images of his paintings drape across a foundation of lines and grids, manipulating our

attention and offering balance. The darkest aspects of the fireplace rest against the line

FO; the fireplace post and tree line follows the Root 4 path parallel to BD. Trees peep

through the steam along the line BN, and in the triangle formed by LBF. Elements of the

Plate 25: Cooking Sorghum. Nesting Root 5 Rectangles

structure midway between E and G follow the path of the sorghum maker’s arm toward

the fire’s bluing smoke.

       In ways that remind one of his hours practicing the lay of drapery, and which

illustrate the integration of that training with structural composition, Olin writes: Drapery

comes into contact with the figure in two ways. Either the goods hang from some point of

support, or they bulge from contact with the figure beneath. The drapery on the figure

cannot be drawn convincingly without a thorough knowledge of the figure beneath”

(Portrait Painting 35-36). Indeed, the composition lines provide a scaffold, system of

points that not only pull and balance the overlying image, but also offer lines against

which even the lightest and most elegant of masses may rest.

       Dynamic symmetry and its harmony of nesting rectangles is based on the golden

section rectangle which Pasquine describes: “A Root 5 rectangle can be defined as a

geometrical figure and as a mathematical ratio. As a geometric figure it is a rectangle in

which the square constructed on the long side has five times the area of a square

constructed on the short side. As a ratio, when the short side is 1, the long side is 2.236”

(Personal Email. October 17, 2008). Together, Dr. Pasquine and I spent days placing the

compass points and scribing arcs through Olin’s paintings as we emailed our findings

aimed at clarifying the structure of Cooking Sorghum (Plate 26). Dr. Pasquine’s exercises

and explanations of the fundamentals were invaluable:

               Constructing a Root 5 rectangle is fairly simple however, and it has
               some interesting properties. There are two methods for constructing a
               Root 5 rectangle. The diagram in the upper rectangle shows how a
               square is constructed at ABCD. The point of a compass is placed at E,

Plate 26: Cooking Sorghum. Demarcations of Roots

               the midpoint of the bottom of the square. The pencil end of the compass is
               then placed at A or B and a complete half-circle arc is made, which then
               defines the limits of the Root 5 rectangle. What is fascinating is that the
               areas to either side of the square FAGC and BDHI are golden section
               rectangles. Since a golden section rectangle is .618, you add together 1 for
               the square and double .618 and get 2.236.

               The other method of constructing a Root 5 rectangle [. . .]. In this case
               we start with the square JKLM. We place the point end of the compass
               at L, and the pencil point at K, and we drop an arc to the base line at O,
               and draw the line NO which makes the Root 2 rectangle. To draw the
               Root 3 rectangle, we place the point end of the compass at L and the
               pencil end at N and drop an arc to Q, and then draw the line PQ. To
               draw the Root 4 rectangle (which is two squares next to each other), we
               place the compass point at L and the point at P, drop an arc to S, and
               draw the line RS. To draw the Root 5 rectangle, we place the point end
               of the compass at L, the pencil end at R, drop an arc to U, and draw the
               line TU. (Personal Email. October 17, 2008)

Once the Root 5 rectangles made their appearance and nesting Root rectangles began to

show themselves, the resulting arcs scribed across the sorghum maker’s arm, neck, and

hat-top. A Root 5 square bordered by two golden section rectangles form the base, where

a half circle passes directly through the sorghum spoon.

       We gathered momentum as we anticipated various patterns within in the many

paintings, at times making fascinating discoveries, at other times meeting with dead ends

that had only been an illusion. Hambidge writes:

               There is a vast difference between synthesis and analysis. In the former,
               given a reasonable equipment for the journey, we advance freely in the
               direction of our goal. In the latter the objective is unknown and the
               finding of a solution to a puzzle or the picking up of a cold trail are
               matters which may tax ingenuity to its utmost. (The Elements of
               Dynamic Symmetry 101)

Truly, my own ingenuity was taxed in the case of the elegant lines that I was so sure

formed a golden spiral in Cooking Sorghum (Plate 27). Pasquine writes:

               I would say that the golden section spiral on "Cooking Sorghum" doesn't
               really work, mainly because the remaining leftover space at the left edge

Plate 27: Cooking Sorghum. Non-applicable Golden Spiral.

is not a dynamic symmetry shape. Also, the eye of the rectangle doesn't really add
anything to establishing a focal point or the interpretation of the picture. (Personal
Email. November 3, 2008)

As the people of the Ozarks would say, “That dog don’t hunt.” In my eagerness to find

the spiral, I sacrificed the left segment of the painting, believing that as the spiral fit into

the remainder of the painting, I had made a discovery. Dr. Pasquine’s sound reasoning set

aside my eagerness which had only half-consciously ignored this obvious obstacle. It was

a lesson in excluding that with which I was uncomfortable, in wanting to trim what

seemed a bothersome excess, but which was most integral and necessary to the structure.

        It placed not only my mathematical deficiencies under the light, but also my

willingness to compromise and cut mathematical corners to reach my goal. Like the

political thinker who eschews those pesky points of logic that undermine heart-held

beliefs, it was perhaps an insight into my mathematical challenges in general. The golden

spiral whirls with the delight it was intended, perfectly and mathematically sound in its

application to many of Olin’s paintings, just not to this one.

        Cooking Sorghum has played a transformative role in the writing of this work,

gathering my attention and piquing my desire to lay the grids and spirals to more of

Olin’s works. I want to take my compass and ruler and answer the call, to expand this

contemplative path with an exploration of the secret lines and swirls, for there is far more

in the smoky steam and the alchemical fires of Cooking Sorghum than meets the eye.

Perhaps the overtly zigzagging composition of the mural, Man’s Interdependence, has

even more to tell, now that from his corner the sorghum maker has spoken.

The Travis Ozark Summer School of Painting, 1927-1929.

       The idea of a summer art camp in the Ozarks incubated with Bess and Olin as

other regional art camps and outings gained momentum . . . the Frank Reaugh sketching

caravan, Alexandre Hogue’s Glen Rose sponsored by the YMCA, and the camp at

Christoval, each of which benefited from the Travis’ participation as instructors. In a

1926 article, Idalea Andrews Hunt quoted the naturalist poet, William Cullen Bryant: “go

forth into the open air and list to Nature’s teachings,” and as the Dallas artists began their

summer plans she wrote: “later June will find them setting up their easels in practically

every noted beauty spot in this country [. . .]” (“Dallas Painters to Travel”). Reporting on

the summer plans of the many local artists, Hunt noted that Olin and Kathryne would

spend time at their summer studio in the Ozarks. Photos of Olin and Kathryne accounted

for two of the nine artist photos published.

       Their many trips to the Ozarks had endeared them among the mountain

communities, and the art camp at Cass, Arkansas thus unfolded as a natural extension of

the institute. Local residents were excited about the prospect of the camp, and Kathryne

noted that their interest was part of what seemed destined to ensure their success (“Art

Colony Plans”). In 1927, as the art students of the Dallas Art Institute placed finishing

touches and tiny signatures to the lower edges of their canvasses, and easels and stools

were tucked away concluding the summer classes, Olin and Kathryne readied for their

“experiment.” Kathryne concluded the major legwork for the project, venturing to the

Ozarks in late March:

               Mrs. Kathryne Hail Travis, wife of the well-known Dallas artist, and
               herself an artist of wide repute, [spent] several hours in Fort Smith
               Friday en route to Cass, Ark., 25 miles north of Ozark, where she goes

               to make arrangements to establish an artists’ colony during the month of
               July. (“More than Fifty of the Best Known Artists”)

Over forty students enrolled for the Travis art camp, and each eagerly anticipated the

weeks ahead.42 During the first season, over 300 canvasses, “the fruit of a summer’s

intensive painting” were produced by the students who attended from Texas, Arkansas,

and Oklahoma (Lowrie, “Artists’ Camp”).

       Kathryne arranged for the use of a sawmill town which had been almost entirely

deserted after the Gold Rush. The abandoned town featured eight large cabins, a post

office and a general store at the edge of a government preserve on the banks of Mulberry

Creek (Plate 28). Several cabins were converted into lodges, and one particularly large

building into a dining hall and club house (“Artists to Paint”). As if echoing the

predictions of the erstwhile Mrs. Kiest, one newspaper anticipated the success that the

summer camp might bring to the Ozarks:

               If plans now being worked out by Olin Herman Travis, director of the
               Dallas (Texas) Art Institute, are successfully consummated, Arkansas
               this year will be the Mecca for more than fifty of the best known artists
               of the United States, and through the paintings that may come from their
               brushes, the Ozarks, which are fast becoming the most notable
               playgrounds in the United States will receive a wonderful amount of
               valuable publicity (“More than Fifty”).

The Dallas Art Institute was three years old when the Travises offered the first artists’

camp at Cass, Arkansas. The camp enjoyed a healthy showering of publicity, and

Olin waxed poetically with each new interview, reiterating his most salient points:

               The Ozarks present a wealth of material ready for the artist that has been
               comparatively untouched. The winding roads and streams, the wonderful
               timber, the lowlands along the Arkansas, and then the uplands with the

 Tuition in 1928 was $100.00 for the month of July, (over $1,200.00 by today’s value).
Guests not seeking instruction were allowed to attend at half price.

Plate 28: Scrapbook Page of the Travis Ozark Summer School of Painting in Cass,
Arkansas. Photograph collection of Susan L. Travis.

               hills and accompanying valleys, give a variety of scenery that is
               unequaled in this country. Added to these features are the log houses,
               rail fences and stone walls, many of which are rapidly disappearing. [. .
               .] The atmosphere has a peculiar charm, and a color unfound in any
               other part of the United States. Every season of the year, every hour of
               the day, presents new beauty in the Ozarks. (“More than Fifty”)

       The students made the most of every moment in their daily schedule. They

opened the day under Olin and Kathryne’s tutelage, then put the new principles to

practice in the afternoon, “studying first hand nature’s shifting lights and shadows and

glorious gamut of color” (Lowrie, “Artists’ Camp”). Idalea Hunt wrote: “Only out-of-

doors does one learn the science of color in its fullest significance (“Trio”). At the end of

each day, students displayed their work for critique at the next morning’s class (Plate 29).

       The public eagerly congregated for the camp open house exhibitions on Sundays.

An average of over 400 people arrived “on foot, and on horseback, in farm wagons and in

flivvers from as far away as fifty miles” (Lowrie, “Artists’ Camp”). Indeed, as word

spread about the camp, visitors came each day to enter the festivities and to watch the

artists at work. The mayor had welcomed the little band on the first day, and Olin soon

received invitations to speak at local organizations. The local forest supervisor made

slides of Olin’s paintings to include in educational firms to aid in fire prevention, and to

illustrate the beauties of the forest preserves (Lowrie, “Artists’ Camp”).

       To the local community, the members of the Cass art colony were an

unprecedented phenomenon, bringing new energy and new ways of doing things. They

were paradoxically both a force of change and a means of preservation. Lowrie writes:

“This particular neighborhood has been left untouched by the outside world. [. . .] Here

the household arts and crafts of former days still flourish, and the Cass colony hopes to

Plate 29. Display of student work at the Travis art camp in Cass. Photo printed courtesy
of Travis Family Collection.

sponsor, encourage, and keep alive these beautiful home crafts of earlier days” (“Artists’

Camp”). Olin recognized this as an artistic opportunity serving both artist and

community: “The old landmarks which tell so many intriguing tales to the sincere painter

are rapidly disappearing and we are doing our best to preserve on canvas the impressions

of a few of them” (“Art Colony Plans”).

       They also sought to preserve the landscape which Olin always included among his

admonitions regarding the environment: “[Travis] urges the people living in [northeast

Arkansas] to realize the importance of caring for the natural beauty of the forests,

streams, and mountains, impressing (sic) on their minds that in no other section of

America is the natural scenery of the Ozarks surpassed” (“Open House”). Bess was of the

same mind, emphasizing the aesthetics of the area: “Both of us have painted in the

Ozarks and love the region, but it had not occurred to me how very lovely it all was until

I returned when the peach blossoms were in bloom and the blue haze was at its best.”

Olin’s support of the area was unflagging:

               “There is to be found in the mountains of this region a greater variety of
               material for the painter than any other part of the United States,”
               according to Mr. Travis, who is the director of the summer school. The
               blue haze of the distant mountains, the nooks and springs which are
               abundant in the hollows, and the rustic log cabins with the untold stories
               of their struggle for life, have cast their spell upon those who have enjoyed
               the last month’s sketching, and indications are that the beauties and stories
               of the Ozarks will attain in the future, the due recognitions from painters
               and art lovers that has been accorded them in the past. (“Visitors from

       Olin’s enthusiasm primed the students for the aesthetic qualities of Ozark,

infusing them with an appreciation for the area, and by extension, the Travis summer art

camp at Cass. One reporter noted: “The nature-seeking artist is a wanderer. So vast is our

part of the continent that no one can describe it all. [. . .] There are byroads which the

motor car does not enter, and only the persistent artist desiring solitude finds them out

(“Sketching in the Unknown”). With the press firmly in their corner, the Travises only

had the students to convince:

               Travis states that he had talked the Ozarks until he was afraid he had
               overdone it, and the students he brought here this year would not react to
               the beauty as he had; however, he is much gratified at the enthusiasm
               shown by each student.

               If you drive out to Cass [. . .] you will be pleasantly surprised at the
               number of favorite creek scenes, houses, and nooks in that part of the
               country that you will at once recognize from the paintings. You will not
               meet among the students a single person that is “queer” or out of the
               ordinary, but just honest to goodness human folks, who are lovers of the
               great out doors. (“Open House”)

       While news clippings provide an elegant account of the colony experiences, the

Cass art camp finds a more personal voice through the photos and memories in my

grandmother’s scrapbook. One of the greatest remaining treasures of the Cass summer

camp, the scrapbook shares details long lost to the broader story shared with reporters of

camp romances, inside jokes, antics and bawdy tales. The scrapbook cover of mottled

reds and greens is hand-lashed with a single cord of leather, and each photo on the light

green pages carries a delicate hand-painted border. A single 1927 brochure cover serves

as portal: “The Travis Ozark Summer School of Painting in the Ozark Mountains.” My

grandfather’s stylized tortoise adorns the announcement, a tiny herald to Bess’s collection

of clippings, photos, and handmade newsletters of the camp antics.

       A later, more professional brochure depicts the students outdoors with their

easels, my grandfather in his Homburg hat and suit (Plate 30). The students sketch at

easels and sit about the grass at the edge of the creek. Each man wears his white shirt and

Plate 30: Student outing at the Travis Ozark School of Summer Painting. Photo printed
courtesy of the Travis Family Collection.

tie, while one is in a full suit. The women are each garbed in dresses, knees to one side on

the grass as they sketch. Each woman sports a fashionable cloche hat. This was not their

standard apparel as other photos show, but perhaps a formal photo taken for promotion of

the program. A charming, unsigned drawing in the style of Edward Eisenlohr adorns the

back of the brochure which all but dares the student to join the jaunty group: “There is an

ever-changing drama of color and form to tempt the painter. Glad will you be if you can

bring back the vaguest impressions, be it on canvas or in a sketchbook of these beautiful

scenes.” One clipping agrees: “Fresh discoveries will be made. Strange landscapes will

appear on the canvasses of winter exhibitions and Arkansas will have entered the world

of art” (“Sketching in the Unknown”).

       The integration of the camp with the local community was part of its appeal. The

artists had no desire to remain isolated, for the Ozarks as a whole, with all its

idiosyncrasies were the subject of their work, and the mixing of the unique groups was a

smashing success. The locals held a dance for the artists, and the artists reciprocated with

a dance for the locals, teaching the Charleston, the Black Bottom, and round dancing to

over 300 people who showed up for the gathering (Lowrie, “Artists’ Camp”). As the hill

folk believed music was a sin, it’s unclear as to how this was accomplished.

       Uncle Buck, Olin’s demonstration portrait of a local former sheriff, was a

community hit, and the uncanny likeness of the old sheriff hung in the local bakery for

the full summer. (Lowrie, “Artists’ Camp”). The painting was an important symbol of the

artists’ integrity and their commitment to ensuring the dignity of their community hosts.

Like The Workman, it held the paradox of worldly ignorance mingled with intellectual

potential and of fragility coupled with ruggedness.

       For their own amusement, the artists held impromptu shows every Saturday night,

each striving to outdo the other with comic stunts and outlandish costumes which were

photographed and placed in the scrapbook. Someone passed around a sombrero with long

fringe, and the group posed and mugged at every opportunity through the fun-filled days.

Their trips to the swimming hole brought out the most enthusiasm (Plate 31), and Olin

remembers one summer when the Sunday open houses had been set aside:

               The place where we were there was no church. There was a schoolhouse
               that I was telling you about, and periodically an itinerant preacher would
               come by and ah, once in a while, and preach. But at this particular time,
               where we had the art camp up there, ah, on Sunday, we painted all week,
               but on Sunday, we loafed. And generally we went swimming in the
               morning, everybody. And the swimming hole, the place where we went
               swimming was right below a bank where the churches are up on top, and
               the swimming place was down below. And it was ice cold and the water
               was deep, ‘cause there was a cold spring that came right out of the side of
               the hill there—water was really was really cold, you know, and we’d be
               screaming and yelling and going on down there, and all the sudden we
               heard the preacher.

               And this particular Sunday, this circuit rider had come by. And he was
               screaming out the top of his lungs, “WHY—Y, IF I—I HAD A
               AXE! AND I—I’D CHOP ‘ER HEAD OFF!” (O. Travis, interview
               with Patterson 7)

       The daily life of the artists continued to be influenced by the actions of the hill

people. When Olin gave Billy James some Country Gentleman Corn, a type of small corn

to plant for the students’ meals the following year, he was disappointed the following

year to find that Billy James had disposed of the crop prior to his arrival, saying, “Oh, I

threw stuff all away, it was so puny,” said, “it never did get any, it just never did do

nothing” (O. Travis, interview with Patterson X).

Plate 31: Students of Cass art camp at swimming hole. Olin carries a large umbrella in
the top center. Photograph collection of Susan L. Travis

        The artists were much enamored of their “Negro” cook, and though they faced

local resistance, they soon squashed the opposition. The camp cook had cooked for the

US Geodetic Survey and many of the largest government expeditions across the country.

The group ate well, feasting on hams and chickens and local produce, and though the

number of available chickens dwindled throughout their stay, the storekeeper managed to

ensure that hens were on hand for a quarter apiece.

        When Olin confiscated some liquor from a student, he offered to share it with

Billy James. Olin does a delightful impression of Billy James, who peered at the

commercial brew with an experienced eye: “Says, ‘his tube’s too close his b’iler, he

bottled too hot,’ says, ‘You oughta taste some of mine!’ says, ‘I gave my wife’s old

woman came over there the other day and she was droopy as a sick turkey. She was just

goin’ around the house so puny, and I gave her a snort of mine, and it wasn’t five minutes

til her ol’ skirttails was a’crackin’ against her heels’” (O. Travis, interview with Patterson

8). Olin adds apologetically: “Some of the humor of these people is un-fit to put on the—

in our particular way of life. [. . .] It smacks of the barnyard and . . .very, very earthy,

and sometimes is startling” (O. Travis, interview with Patterson 8).

        Kathryne’s scrapbook includes the newsletters prepared for each of the three

years of the Cass art camp. The first is a typed set of pages which indicates that this is

Volume 2, Number 6 of “The Daubers Friend and Guide” with a note: “Published

spasmodically—A magazine of rot for those appreciating deep literature. Sold on all

trains in most up to date pig stands.” A “Funeral March” provides notes and a full set of

lyrics based on the inside jokes of 1927. One note reads: “There’s an OLIN my BESS

socks!” In keeping with my grandfather’s love for writing limericks, there are a series

related to the different artists within the group. The limerick for Bess read:

               There was a young teacher named Bess
               Who had us make charts and not rest
               We learned some strange mixtures
               And spread them on pictures
               Then Oh! What a mell of a hess!

The newsletter for 1928 is a lovely pen sketch with the title, “Palette Scrapin’s from

Campo del Casserole” and features dozens of cartoons of the camp antics. In 1929,

“Scandal Edition: The Casstoria News” was created out of pieced typewritten articles and

snippets pasted onto a single sheet, a giant clutter of tissue paper and brown paper.

       The group became lost in the momentum of the experience, and soon the press

reported: “The Travis Art School at Cass was to have closed Sunday, but owing to the

beauty of the scenery, the hospitality and courtesy of the people in general and the

wonderful opportunity, most of the student artistes decided to stay one extra week

longer” (“Travis Art School Closes Sunday”).

       The Travis Ozark Summer School of Painting carried the spirit of many events

with which Olin and Kathryne involved themselves. They thrived on a clown-like

carnival intellectualism that had them dressing like abstract paintings, embracing the

Bohemian artist persona, and building Arabian palaces for a night of wonder. It’s the sprit

that drew 300 mountain folk to attempt the Charleston, and forty artists to teach them

how. It took them to the woods, to the peach blossoms and blue haze by Mulberry Creek

amid the sycamores, and led one reporter to note: “It is the age old lure of this loveliest of

all seasons in every clime that causes these devotees of the brush to fall such willing

victims of the wanderlust” (“Dallas Painters”). Yet it wasn’t just wanderlust that drew

them. It was the joy of the day.

       By the second year, the camp had progressed from an experiment to a resounding

success, giving them the lead in articles about regional art opportunities and summer

expeditions. One article notes: “Mr. Travis’ achievements as a painter as well as an

instructor [have] brought this camp much prestige. It is now widely recognized as one of

the leading summer activities of this part of the country, where students may do serious

work” (“Dallas Painters”).Yet there seems no explanation as to why the camp lasted only

three years. It simply vanishes into history without fanfare.

       The Travis Ozark Summer School of Painting mirrors much of my own

experience with camp culture and the responsibilities and values that come with such an

endeavor. I know from experience the power of such a place which captures the

alchemical bubbling of merriment, creation, and contemplation. The Travis love of nature

has been handed down through generations and lives in unexpected ways for each of us.

I’m reminded of the words of John Muir, whose insights often guided the path of Olin

and Bess: “I went out for a walk, and finally concluded to stay until sundown, for going

out, I found, was really going in” (qtd. in Browning 327).

       Grove of trees (1927). For many years Grove of Trees (Plate 31) hung against our

adobe walls, enchanting our space with lush trees and a winding dirt road which

poignantly reminded me of Camp Mary White, the Girl Scout camp which I’d attended as

a child near Weed, New Mexico. The painting almost perfectly mirrors the bend in

Medina Canyon as one nears Miss Mary’s Cabin and hikes toward the horse corrals.

Plate 32: Grove of Trees, 1927. Oil on canvas, 15 x 28 in. Collection of Susan L. Travis.

As if they stand in the dust and hold the painting against the landscape, fellow campers

recognize this spot in the rutted road and express delight at my beautiful painting of our

beloved camp. Yet Grove of Trees is not of Camp Mary White, but rather of the road

leading to the Travis art camp in Cass, Arkansas, and the parallels of the image only

begin on the approaching road.

        Camp Mary White nestles as deeply in our hearts as in the pined crannies of the

Sacramento Mountain; for there, secluded amid the leaves and loam, we learned the ways

of womanhood and were ushered into a new way of being. When I stand in a grove and

look straight up, I enter the warm embrace of a kaleidoscope of pines, reminding me of

those days so long ago, and friends who formed a similar circle as my universe. We

gathered at our singing circle, Singing Trees, and my sister, whose camp name was

Timber, led us in songs of the earth, of Indian ways, sad ballads, and assorted nonsense,

much as the campers at Cass filled the night air with their own memories in the making.

Mentored by our elders, Robin, Woody, Nap and Owl, we held the hands of our younger

versions, Peanut, Pickle, and Cucumber, teaching them their knots and flowers.

Together we were women handing ways to girls, girls handing ways to little ones. We

were gems, reflecting both past and future in one another’s present eyes, linked by

entwined fingers, hearts, and ways of knowing. We were daughters of the earth . . .

“Gaia’s Girls”. . . eternal.

        Bordering the Lincoln National Forest, Camp Mary White features a large pine

lodge, equestrian facilities, thirty-four three-sided Adirondack cabins, and various

outbuildings. In the dawn of the Girl Scout movement, the events featured at the 200-acre

camp brought it international prestige as the cherished crown jewel of the Girl Scout

experience in the southwestern United States. My sister and I attended as campers during

the 1970s. Timber later became director of the camp, and in 2003, she organized the first

reunion in many years. Though I’d been forgetting this place for over 20 years, it is

integral to who I have become. For some, it has been over 70 years since they had

walked the canyons of Camp Mary White.

        The alumni were aghast at the ruinous condition of the camp, though not entirely

surprised, for since the 1980s, the local Girl Scout council has preferred less remote,

more civilized activities. Once the bastions of nature, leadership, and self-sufficiency,

even the national “mother” organization has abandoned their heritage for a new concept

called “urban camping,” for, they explain, the “market” has shifted. They school us on

the nature of “girls today,” challenged by drugs, pregnancy and eating disorders, who

require electricity for their curling irons and technology to hold their interest. They urge

us to recognize that tradition is out of touch with contemporary needs of the “modern

girl” and besides, the woods are simply not safe. Distance from their heritage of archaic

frontier skills and survival training brings them more comfortable, less expensive arts and

crafts programs within their own communities. As leaders lost skills, campers became

bored with the simplistic crippled programming at the old camp, easing the transition

away from the past.

       The local council’s campaign of negligence resulted in a self-fulfilling prophesy

as the camp’s increasing ruin legitimized their disdain for the property and compromised

their already unhealthy financial situation. By the time of the 2003 reunion, the cabins

were hazardous obscenities resulting from ill-conceived alterations and neglect. Dennis

Slattery speaks of this “cultural amnesia” which signals not only the death of a people’s

understanding but also of an animating force that nourishes imagination and facilitates

hope (332). The leaders have lost their way, drifting into deceptive shallowness and

abandoning the primal elements of imagination rooted in history. C. G. Jung offers

insight into the experience of losing one’s way: “If you give up the past you naturally

detach from the past; you lose your roots in the soil, your connection with the totem

ancestors that dwell in your soil. You turn outward and drift away, and try to conquer

other lands because you are exiled from your own soil” (qtd. in Sabini 73). In losing their

own way, the Girl Scout council sacrificed the soul of their endeavor and with it our

beautiful camp. Yet Camp Mary White was the soil of its campers, not of its council, and

we do well to acknowledge that we, too, have drifted.

       The writings of American naturalists and poets inform the narrative of our youth,

and we hold tightly to their words. From their midst, John Muir writes: “The forests of

America, however slighted by man, must have been a great delight to God; for they were

the best he ever planted (qtd. in Browning 224). Just in the nick of time, we gathered

among the delightful trees and weeds to remember our place of refuge, one another, and

the meanings of our community.

       In the same way that Olin requested that his paintings be the subject of

contemplation, in 1928, Miss Mary charged the participants of Camp Mary White with

ensuring the continued stewardship of the camp for generations to come. For me, the dual

sentiments rang out as harmonious clarion calls simultaneously beckoning as if from two

shores. I left the reunion for a three-day work-related seminar on grants and establishing

nonprofit organizations, and returned to an email account overflowing in a beautiful

chaotic flowering of enthusiasm and memories of my former campmates,

overwhelmingly in support of doing something to recover the camp.

       Little girls grown to women, we gathered to renew our stewardship of this special

place, for we hunger for the vibrancy of enriching ways. I filed the papers to establish

Friends of Camp Mary White, Inc. only months before beginning this journey of image,

heritage, and dreams too long left at rest. The projects quickly became entangled, each

intruding upon the other. As vice-president, and later president of the Board of Trustees

for the non-profit, I placed Olin’s Grove of Trees on the cover of my non-profit notebook

and set about organizing committees to evaluate programming, property, staffing,

funding, and publicity. It served as an intention for our future that carries the lushness of

our past and a vision of health that our campers only hold in memory. In countless ways,

Camp Mary White found its way to this journey into Olin’s narrative, mingling the scent

of pine through the lives and times of my family. What connected these two special

places? How can this painting of Olin’s place and time be such an exact replica of my

own? How can the situation he observes and places on his canvas be so duplicated in my

own time and space?

       For me, Grove of Trees reflects a place of convergence for two journeys

beginning almost 80 years ago, two generations before my birth. In July1928, even as

Mary White gathered the first girls and women to her campfires in the New Mexico

mountains, Olin and Bess Travis set out for the sawmill camp in Cass, Arkansas with

their first art colony participants. Rooted in the celebration and integration of nature and

community, these camp founders shared the ability to put muscle to their dreams, to

gather like-minded people into service of nature, creativity and community. They

salvaged the ignored, abandoned, and unusable and brought “new” from “nothing.” They

refused the temptations of fear that they might fail, resolving to pass any “Great No” that

might stand in their paths. Not only did these dreams become my heritage, but the

dynamics that drove them also became my heritage. All of this now calls to be re-

membered and harnessed into service.

       Seemingly unrelated, the camps at Cass and Weed amplify the original zoëtic

energy that breathed life into their own time, calling me into the embrace of their story.

The energy arrives in a double wind to my life, insisting on my attention. Like the work

of Olin, Bess, and Miss Mary, my involvement means a new energy of recovery, of

creating something from nothing, eliciting, and calling on memory to reinvigorate the

spirit of a nurturing creative space. In both projects, I sing over the bones, pulling spirit

and life into my camp, and into my grandfather’s artwork and story. Both breathe again

as two stories braided into one—mine—even as they remain distinct in their own rights. I

am not the lynchpin of their tales; they are the lynchpin of mine.

       As I completed the application for a historic roadside marker, I found that Camp

Mary White was the first Girl Scout camp in the New Mexico, Texas, Arizona, Colorado,

and Oklahoma region. I also discovered an age-old link between the two camps, those

many years ago. In 1929, the director of the Dallas Girl Scout organization and a regular

attendee of Camp Mary White, Sibley Ross, hired a young Dallas Art Institute graduate

to serve as the Girl Scout Arts and Crafts director (“Named Director”). Rettie Kelly

Ensor, a strikingly beautiful dark haired, dark-eyed young woman had long been a

student at the Dallas Art Institute, president of the institute’s alumni organization, and

had attended not only the Travis summer camp at Cass but also Alexandre Hogue’s camp

at Glen Rose. As the focal point of scouting activities during that era, most leaders of

consequence attended the many regional, national and international events held at the

New Mexico camp, and I like to think that somewhere is proof that this lovely young

woman found her way not only to the Travis camp at Cass, but to Camp Mary White as


        In much the same way that Olin built his art institute, only to have it manipulated

from his care, I too, lived a facet of that process with my nonprofit. I founded the

nonprofit as I began this work, yet as I came to the end of my journey with Olin, I found

the non-profit similarly manipulated from my care by those less interested in stewardship

than prestige and refuge from accountability. I was suddenly assaulted by replications of

a betraying energy, from my camp project, to my sister’s healthcare, to my president, to

my embezzling employee. Just as my grandfather experienced so many years ago, I was

suddenly steeped in moth-eaten logic, deceit, incompetence, and unreliability carrying

significant consequences that seemed to matter only to me.

        I looked to Olin’s story for guidance. Perhaps, as for my grandfather, shattered

trust would prove a necessary catalyst forcing the path to a fork toward a different

journey. Regardless, it flavored my work with the painful energies of Olin’s experience

so long ago, of the hues and textures of friends and colleagues unwilling to show remorse

or conscience, even in a place only meant as safe harbor to nurture a bountiful heart. Like

Olin, I found that something dear had been cheapened by a willing sacrifice of essential

work and heart. Olin’s experience taught him that some endeavors come to a natural if

painful ending, and he offers a dignified example should that be my path as well.

       As always, when I listen to Olin’s manuscript on portraiture, I hear his words as

metaphor, and I am struck by the many ways his lessons translate into my own life. In the

following passage, Olin offers his thoughts on the transitional nature of edges:

               To paint up to an edge and to manipulate that paint so the edge is either
               soft, sharp, ragged, smooth, easily seen or barely distinguishable, and
               that the edge fulfills its proper function in the totality—to do this
               requires a knowledge of the tools, a knowledge of the character and
               condition of the surface that you are working on and of the
               characteristics of the paint you are handling. This has nothing to do in
               one sense with deciding what sort of edge you desire, but in another
               sense, unless you know from handling the material what sort of edges
               are possible, how you can make a significant decision about what is
               needed? (O. Travis. Portrait Painting 11)

As I stand at a new edge, with new owners of Camp Mary White eager to bring the camp

to a new vitality, I consider Olin’s words with particular interest. A passage by John Muir

adds a necessary postscript: “Nature is ever at work building and pulling down” (qtd. in.

Browning 62). I can’t help but study the nature of our edge and wonder whether my own

camp will thrive or succumb, and whether I should continue to follow the call for its


       George Meredith’s poem, “Dirge in the Woods” seems hauntingly apropos to my


               A wind sways the pines,
               And below
               Not a breath of wild air;
               Still as the mosses that glow
               On the flooring and over the lines
               Of the roots here and there.
               The pine-tree drops its dead;
               They are quiet as under the sea.
               Overhead, overhead
               Rushes life in a race,
               As the clouds the clouds chase;
               And we go,
               And we drop like the fruits of the tree

               Even we,
               Even so. (qtd. in Maritain 118)

Using images of plurality of pines, mosses, lines, roots, clouds, fruits, and “we,”

Meredith’s poem emphasizes the notion of community and gathering. The poem shares

the grieving of one cycle even as another beautiful layer begins, as so many times we

must determine the place or of our story. Jacques Maritain, writing of creative intuition

notes, “However rich a soil may be, the juices of the earth must be assimilated by the

living sap of trees” (261). Similarly Otto Rank writes that man is a self-renewing tree

(183). Am I living a story of seed, fruit, or am I in a place of mulch? With a little self-

awareness and contemplative moments in the pines, I’ll soon know, for revealed in its

instances of gathering, in its groves, herds, flocks, and pools, nature joins us in seasons of

thriving and dying, and of arriving, growing, and coming home.

       As I approach the view depicted by Grove of Trees, I’m often tired, for the

canyon is long, and I’m easily winded. I see the corrals ahead and I know it won’t be long

before I’m around the bend and in sight of the lodge. For me, that is the placing, the

situation of the inviting scene, for it speaks of homecoming. When I occasion to round

the Medina bend on horseback, the horse’s gait and energy palpably transform to

homecoming energy, for we are returning to the barns, with the horses and corrals ahead

and the watercress spring and jenny-mules to my right. Though the cabins are high in the

canyon, the lodge ahead is a true place of rest, refuge, and community.

       One expects synchronicity through the symbolic paintings, as dynamics so easily

transfer from one situation to another. As I superimpose my own experience of this view

from Medina to the corrals onto Olin’s experience, the painting yields a strong echo from

Olin’s time forward to my own. Because of the painting, the few feet of earth affording

the view in Medina seem uniquely my own. Perhaps, indeed, the painting perpetuates the

originating past, insisting its pattern onto an unforeseen future. Certainly, it provides a

link between us, for it evenly matches my own life and perhaps echoes in quieter ways as


        Camp Mary White taught a method of contemplation through what were called

“acclimatization activities” which profoundly strengthened our relationship with the

earth. We knew our sky – ruffled by day with leafy edges and a piney fringe. Bare-

breasted on our backs in the flowered fields, shirts rolled and tucked as pillows, we

watched the clouds like Rorschach prophets, billowing and morphing into images as if for

our own amusement. We serenaded the stars, which hung as seasoned friends

choreographed across the sky – Cassiopeia, the Dippers, Big Bear – all fringed by the

shadowy edges of earth. We peered at that sky through tent flaps and wagon canvas,

through the open fronts of our Adirondack cabins that lined the canyons and from open

fields and corrals with only the Milky Way as blanket. We believed the adage that God

pokes holes in the floors of heaven so that he can watch us sleep, and if we looked at the

night sky just right, we could see his divinity peeping through.

        Blindfold Walks in the care of fellow campers revealed the textures of the forest,

and the art of guiding blinded fingers across bark, moss, tiny pebbles, and among the

strange textures of the earth. Lying scattered under trees, we gazed up the trunk and

sketched the spaces between the leaves. We chose a square inch of pungent earth, then

lying on our bellies, observed its life for what seemed like hours, writing pages of

description that recorded the march of ants and the movement of the gently mulched

forest flooring under the lightest breeze. So much learned from that inch of earth, of

what I have in common with any given square inch of nature and what she has to share.

       In such a spirit of contemplation, Olin writes an account of the sycamore grove

and the jade green pool, an inspiring tribute to nature and one’s artistic endeavors. His

words are among my favorite finds:

               I was browsing along a creek in the Ozarks. I came to a bend in the creek
               where it widened into a deep jade green pool. There was a high bank on
               one side on which there grew some giant sycamores that spread out over
               the water. They were reflected in the water. On the side where I was
               walking, the shallow side, there was a gravel bar of varied colored rocks. I
               was so overcome by the beauty of this scene that I dashed back to camp
               and got a big 30 x 36 canvas. When I got back to the place the sun was
               high overhead. I set up my material and took a good look. It was a jade
               green pool. I had no idea there were so many reflections in the pool. The
               Sycamores had light bark and dark bark. Some limbs were in sunlight,
               some in shadow. Leaves were of many colors—some light green, some
               dark green—some orange—some brown—some in the light—some in the
               shadow; the sunlight shown through some. Some cast reflections from the
               sky. Some of various hues fallen on the water caused reflections. …

               And on the deep side, where the water was green were the reflections of
               the dirt bank and the roots of the trees—and a snake slithered down off the
               bank—swam across—leaving a trail of silver. And there were the
               reflections of the tree trunks, limbs, and leaves—and on the side of the
               gravel bar—where the water got more and more shallow—you could see
               the bottom through the water. You could see big rocks and little rocks of
               many colors—each with a light side and with a dark side. And some
               casting shadows on each other and on the sandy bottom. And a breeze
               stirred the tops of the trees—and for the first time, I noticed the shadows
               of the trees making a pattern on top of the water. And a big bass slowly
               drifted out into the shallow—and a breeze hit the top of the water—a
               million sparkles mottled the surface—and a cloud drifted across the sun.
               And all went darker and gray. Now—what to do. Try it without
               abstracting. (Museum Notes 2, 3)

This compelling segment invites the image to appear and reminds me of my long-ago

relationship with the square inch patch of earth. What painting carries this evocative

image? Ralph Waldo Emerson seems to understand the intimate challenge of Olin’s

calling at the jade pool, at the sunset, or under the Ozark skies:

                Hence it is that a rule of one’s art [. . .] holds true throughout nature. So
                intimate is this Unity, that it is easily seen, it lies under the undermost
                garment of nature, and betrays its source in Universal Spirit. For it
                pervades Thought also. (qtd. in Geldard 77)

Emerson speaks not only of the integrated facet such as Olin witnessed at the jade pool,

but also of the mesmerizing biology, geometry, and archetypal constructs among which

Olin made his home.

        My grandfather’s affinity for the woods and forest were no secret, and as the

camp at Cass was being outlined, Idalea Andrews Hunt took up her pen:

                Olin Travis unquestionably loves trees with the pantheistic devotion of a
                Japanese, and, like the Druids of old, he feels that there is a living
                consciousness beneath their ragged bark that claims a brotherhood with
                man. Every mood of the various seasons are interpreted (sic) with
                understanding and a fine reverence for the great outdoors.

                With technique facile as it is assertive, this painter has registered the
                subtle, compelling beauty of the effulgent springtime, when gentle zephyrs
                stir new-leafed branches, as well as the glorious autumn, when the
                November sun creeps to rest behind trees that have wrapped themselves in
                Paisley shawls, with brilliant red foliaged ones dear to the heart of
                Enneking and Crane accenting the whole. (“Dallas Artist Holds Exhibit”)

Idalea Hunt was not the only writer who saw Olin’s work as an opportunity to wax

poetically. In a reference edition titled, A History of Texas Artists and Sculptors, Frances

Battaile Fisk writes: “Mr. Travis paints with a Druid’s veneration for trees. [. . .] It is for

his remarkable portrayal of the sylvan beauty of the mountains and of Ozark rural life

that the artist has become particularly distinguished in the Southwest” (66).

        Olin’s gifted observations combine not only the visual description with a

technical analysis, but demonstrate a striking ability to laugh at himself. He shares one

experience as lecturer:

                How Providence, at times, aids those who seek the truth: “Students,
                there are certain laws that govern the operation of light and color. When
                we speak of the local color of an object, we refer to it as the color of the
                object under a white light.

                “As we stand here in the road looking down it toward the distant
                mountains, notice how the late evening sun, at this time, on this sort of
                day, causes the light to have a deep yellow hue.

                “The law is: The color of an object is, in any given situation, the local
                color of the object plus the color of the light on the illuminated side, the
                side in shadow being the local color darker, plus the complement of the

                “Notice yonder silvery gray fence post. The sun streaking through that
                gap in the pines, spotlights the tip of the post with brilliant yellow. But
                what is even more pronounced is the shadow side of the tip of the post, a
                vivid purple, the perfect complement of the color of the sunlight.”

                Later, walking down by the fence post, I was startled to see that some
                large bird had overindulged in elderberries and had lit on the post and
                had further indulged in brilliant purple colorful relief, and on the
                shadowed side of the post. (Portrait Painting 88-89)

Our experiences are rarely as they seem; blessings may be curses in disguise, and the

betrayal of today may be the greatest gift of our future. Somehow, such lessons need

relearning, just as forgiveness requires renewal. Olin warns his students that the work of a

landscape artist holds its pitfalls:

                The best way to get this information is to work directly from nature.
                Painting from nature is a hazardous business. The wind can come up
                suddenly and blow your paint covered palette in your face. Turn over
                your paint box and blow your glasses into the underbrush. It is always
                necessary to back off and look at your picture. You can back over a log
                or a stump—you can if sitting on the ground to paint quietly have a
                large rattlesnake curl up beside you to keep warm—you can be chased
                by an irate bull—or chased off the property by an ignorant farmer. You

                can get sunburned or get caught in the rain and catch your death of
                cold. (Museum Notes 4)

Such warnings seem born of my own fortune, though Olin’s words can be heard

metaphorically as warnings to the psyche, that the shadows hold predators, and the

journey may be fraught with danger and unexpected challenges. C. G. Jung similarly

understood the role of nature in our lives:

                The earthly manifestations of God’s world began with the realm of
                plants, as a kind of direct communication from it. It was as though one
                were peering over the shoulder of the Creator, who, thinking Himself
                unobserved, was making toys and decorations. [. . .] Trees in particular
                were mysterious and seemed to me direct embodiments of the
                incomprehensible meaning of life. For that reason, the woods were the
                places where I felt closest to its deeper meaning and to its awe-inspiring
                workings. (Memories, Dreams Reflections 67, 68)

        We, the campers, felt this closeness to the woods of our camp and to the oaks and

pines, yet we abandoned its care to a jittery council not strengthened by experiences such

as our own. For all our nursing of anger and outrage that others have not honored what

we hold dear, we tend to forget that the stewardship of memories and values, of such

things as camps and nations, gods and grandfathers, resides in our own hearts. We can’t

relegate the care of our treasures to others, for these are tasks of the heart.

        It’s strange to think of how such a way of being should become so lost to me,

strange to grope and surf for the names of the Mountain Aster and the delicate orange

Globemallow. For so long, I barely remembered the sky. The constellations had

dissolved into a hodgepodge of miscellaneous dots and glitter. The textures of earth no

longer held meanings of potter’s clay and poultice. My knowing was lost. I grew up and

away from the earth, as I suppose is the way of the Artemisian soul, for in leaving the

archetype, we leave the knowing, the recognizing, and are left only with a memory of the

girls we once were. I suspect that we were silent for so long because we’d forgotten our

own tale, just as Olin’s story has languished without a messenger.

       I experienced Camp Mary White as a harsh, loving, and delightful taskmistress. I

went to sleep each night, exhausted, bone marrow weary, knowing only that the morning

would bring its chilly kiss and the dance of a new cricket’s song. I lived in the embrace

of Camp Mary White, and every day of my forgetting, I have tried to find it again, for she

was Mother Earth, showing her splendor, her potential, her wildness, and her joy. She

was the wholeness of earth and women, fierce thunder and budding buttercups, hugs,

bugs, songs, and laughter . . . tired legs, tears, sore feet, and fatigue. She gave me my

courage, the capacity to act despite despair, challenging me to hold on, to carry on, and to

keep on in the face of hardship. To this very day, like Olin and Bess, I kept hiking the

woods, kept riding the trail, kept dancing the show, kept studying the world, kept writing

my chapter, and kept hoping for my deepest dreams to come true. Like them, despite the

obstacles, I make it every time, bone-weary and behind, but complete with new knowing

and unexpected insights greater than ever overtly intended.

       From every direction, the rich facets of these two camps presented the world in all

its patient mystery, a gem of reflection to the seeking soul. Despite time and place, we

savored the song of the green growing rushes and glimpsed a thousand lessons of

creativity in the billowing clouds and rutted, flower-fringed roads. We attended to the

scrape of the bench and the swinging screen door of lodge kitchens, and wondered at the

hailing tug of the woods and hills. Our camps nourished the soul, and the echo of their

sheltering harmonies gifted wisdoms that forever blessed so many lives.

        The parallels carried by Grove of Trees elevate it to a particular importance

among the landscapes which were among Olin’s favorite genres. The painting depicts our

camps, and our places of refuge and contemplation mirrored across time and geography.

It tells not only of community and perseverance, but of a way of understanding creativity,

of knowing druids, the spirits of the trees, God, the Green Man, and Olin Travis.

Fresh Air on Canvas

        The trees of 1927 hovered over the heads of singing campers, just as they now

hover above my own. I find their metaphor in the limbs of our family tree that hang

above me and know that my journey is to seek the shade of their stories in new and

fruitful ways. Olin’s landscapes and paintings of the Ozarks hold a wealth of wisdom,

illustrating the deepest truths of our humanity so often found in literature. The poet, Anne

Sexton, writes: the trees persist, yeasty and sensuous, as thick as saints (105).

        At heart, Olin and Bess were children of the sycamore hills, dancing the

Charleston with the sorghum maker in the dusky evening, the scent of cabbage in the

breeze. These were their gentle days, when they hiked the sylvan woods by day and

dangled their feet in jade pools . . . days before their perfect spiral was no more. I think of

them sketching these images and sharing dreams high in the Ozark Mountains. Amid this

tangle of love and nature, the story of Olin and Bess finds hospitable refuge, for its most

enduring aspect is this memory which nestles into the ages and loves of time and finds its


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