Under the Skylights by Henry Blake Fuller
Dr. Gowdy and the Squash
Jared was an ignorant and rather bumptious young fellow of twenty-four, who was hoping to make something of himself, and was feeling about for the means. He had a firm jaw, a canny eye, and vague but determined ambitions. These sufficed.
Jared lived on a farm. He liked the farm life, but not the farm work--a fine distinction that caused his fellow-labourers to look upon him as something of a shirk. He would rove the fields while the rest were working in them. He thought his own thoughts, such as they were, and when a book came his way, as now and then happened, he read it.
Onward and Upward was lent to him by the daughter of the county attorney. She thought it would tone him up and bring his nebulousness toward solidity--she too being anxious that Jared should make something of himself, and unwilling to wait indefinitely. Jared took the book and looked at it. He passed quite lightly over the good Doctor's platitudes on honesty, perseverance, and the like, having already encountered them elsewhere; but the platitudes on art arrested his attention. "I shouldn't wonder but what all this might be so," said Jared to himself; "I don't know but what I should like to try it"--meaning not that he had any desire to refine and ennoble himself, but only a strong hankering to "get his hand in," as the phrase goes.
It was about this time that the Western Art Circuit began to evangelize Hayesville. The Western Art Circuit had been started up by a handful of painters and literary men in "the city"; among them, Abner Joyce, notable veritist; Adrian Bond, aesthete, yet not without praiseworthy leanings toward the naturalistic; Stephen Giles, decorator of the mansions of the great, but still not wholly forgetful of his own rustic origins; and one or two of the professors at the Art Academy. All these too believed that it was the mission of art to redeem the rural regions. It was their cardinal tenet that a report on an aspect of nature was a work of art, and they clung tenaciously to the notion that it would be of inestimable benefit to the farmers of Illinois to see coloured representations of the corn-fields of Indiana done by the Indianians themselves. So presently some thirty or forty canvases that had been pushed along the line through Bainesville and Miller and Crawford Junction arrived at Hayesville, and competed in their gilt frames with the canned peaches and the drawn-work of the county fair.
"There, Jared," said the county attorney's daughter, who was corresponding secretary of the woman's club that had brought about this artistic visitation, "you see now what can be done."
Jared saw. He walked the farm, and drew beads on the barn-yard, and indulged in long "sights" over the featureless prairie landscape. The wish to do, to be at it, was settling in his finger-tips, where the stores of electric energy seemed to be growing greater every day.
"I believe I could do something of the kind myself," said Jared. "I like the country, and I'm handy at light jobs; and if somebody would give me an idea of how to start in...."
The Hayesville Seminary had just celebrated the opening of its fifth fall term by adding an "art department"; a dozen young women were busy painting a variety of objects under the guidance, good as far as it went, of an eager lady graduate of Dr. Gowdy's Academy.
"Why don't you get Miss Webb to show you?" asked the county attorney's daughter.
"I can't study with a lot of girls," muttered Jared loutishly.
"Of course not," quickly replied the other. "Make it a private, individual matter. Get some ideas from her, and then go ahead alone."
Jared picked up a few elementary facts about colours, canvas, and composition in the art atmosphere of the Seminary, and then set to work by himself. "Something sizable and simple, to start with," he said. Autumn was over the land; nothing seemed more sizable, more simple, more accessible, than the winter squash. "Some of 'em do grapes and peaches," he observed, in reminiscence of the display of the Circuit at the fair, "but round here it's mostly corn and squashes. I guess I'll stick to the facts--that is, to the verities," he amended, in accord with the art jargon whose virus had begun to inoculate the town.
He elected the squash. And he never went far beyond it. But the squash sufficed. It led him on to fame (fame of a certain curious kind) and to fortune (at least a fortune far beyond any ever reached by his associates on the farm).