Life on mid-western farms

I when I was very young, my life was consumed with painting, drawing, and horses, not always in that order. My father arranged our mid-western basement into quarters; a storm cellar complete with shelves of canned food and water, a laundry drop and lines, a pool room, and

an art studio. He defined the art corner with two easels, one small and one tall side-by side in the center, a chair in front of the larger easel and a TV tray between the easels for palettes and paint and a coffee can filled with turpentine.

Child painting a dog at an easel

Years later when I was in high school, my dad died suddenly turning our shared studio space into a mausoleum of his paintings hanging on the pressed wood walls with unfinished pieces leaning next to his easel. I brought everything upstairs, put a sheet on the table and recreated an art corner in the dining room, a choices I still embrace today, as shockingly my studio work really does spill over on the dining room table more often than not.

I grew up as an only child in a factory town. I spent innumerable weekends and every summer with cousins on a farm up north; we call Northern Wisconsin, "up north". I loved the farms. They all had big musty barns filled with stacks of hay, straw, bins of sweet-smelling feed, and a sprinkling of cats chasing mice in the fields, or lazing about on the stacks of straw bales.

And then there were the horses.

When they first bought the farm, they didn’t have horses. They said the horses were coming, and all summer we dreamed of what we would do when the horses got there. We visited neighboring farms and scoped out the cows by scrambling up on the rock fence alongside the cattle barn to see inside the yard. We didn’t know if they were dairy cows or beef cattle. But, like horses, they were large and four-legged and had long, straight, firm backs.

Cows at dry stone wall

Patiences is a rare commodity for kids. Out of desperation, we considered practicing bareback riding on the neighbor’s cows, dreaming of the day the horses would get there. We had to boil up a head of steam to actually do it and jump into the cow pen. It was almost the end of summer when we scrambled up that rock fence one more time when I couldn’t take it anymore. I flat out told my cousin, “Let’s do it. Let’s jump down there and ride one of the cows.” Holy moly! You would have thought I set her on fire! She started to panic, “We can’t do that!”

Cows face

“You’re not a fraidy cat, are you?” I said.

“What if the bull sees us? Or the farmer?”

“Ok,” I said. “I’ll go first, and you keep a lookout. If it all goes well, then it’s your turn.”

I jumped off the stone fence and walked over to the nearest cow. Do you have any idea how hard it is to climb up a cow? Those animals are big! But they are also sweet, and this one was very patient with me. I got on it’s back but I couldn't get my legs around it like on a horse. Even so, it was better than nothing.

Just as well. The steer got wind of us and made a move to get us out of there. My cousin screeched at me. I leapt off, and scrambled up the stone fence just in time. That was my first time sitting bareback, but not my last.

- Susan Kraft, Artist