Under the Skylights by Henry Blake Fuller
Dr. Gowdy and the Squash
Yes, Jared kept to the squash, and made it famous; and in due course the squash made him famous. He came to be known all over Ringgold County, and even beyond, as the "squash man." He painted this rotund and noble product of the truck-farm in varying aspects and with varying accessories. Sometimes he posed it, gallantly cleft asunder, on the corner of the bran-bin, with its umber and chrome standing out boldly against a background of murky bitumen; and sometimes he placed it on the threshold of the barn door, with a rake or a pitchfork alongside, and other squashes (none too certain in their perspective) looming up from the dusky interior.
Jared mastered the squash with all the ease of true genius. He painted industriously throughout the early winter. He had saved two or three of his best models from the fall crop, and they served him for several months. Squashes keep. Their expression alters but slowly. This one fact alone makes them easier to paint than many other things--the human countenance, for example. By the end of January Jared was emboldened to exhibit one of his squashes at a church sociable.
"Well, Jared," said the minister's wife, "you be a genius. I don't know that I ever see anything more natural." Other ladies were equally generous in their praise. Jared felt that at last he had found his life-work. Henceforward it was to be onward and upward indeed.
The men were more reserved; they did not know what to make of him. But none of them openly called him a fool--a sort of negative praise not without its value. Nor was this forbearance misplaced--as was seen when, along in March, Jared's father ended his fifty unprofitable years of farm routine by dying suddenly and leaving things more or less at loose ends. Farming was not his forte--perhaps it is nobody's. He had never been able to make it pay, and he had gone in seeming willingness to shuffle off the general unsatisfactoriness of it all on to other shoulders.
In the settlement that followed, nobody got the better of Jared. There were itching fingers among the neighbours, and sharp wits too in the family itself, but Jared shrewdly held his own. He climbed into the saddle and stuck there. He cajoled when he could, and browbeat when he must. "No, he ain't no fool," said Cousin Jehiel, who had come up from Bainesville, with his eye on a certain harvester and binder. "He may make the farm pay, even if the old man didn't."
About this time Jared, partly for solace, subscribed to an art journal. It came once a month, and its revelations astounded him. He took a day off and went into "the city," and spent eleven dollars to satisfy himself that such things could really be.
"I declare, Melissa," he reported to the daughter of the county attorney on his return to Hayesville, "but it was an eye-opener. The way the people poured into that place!--and just to look at creeks and corn-fields and sacks of potatoes!"
"Of course," replied the girl. "Why not? Doesn't your paper tell you that the hope of American art is in the West, and that the best thing we can do is to paint the familiar things of daily life? That's all the cry just now, and you want to take advantage of it."
"And there was a sort of book," pursued Jared, "hung up by the door near the desk where that girl sat and kept track of things. I see people looking at it, so I looked too. You won't believe me! 'No. 137, two hundred and fifty dollars. No. 294, six hundred and seventy-five dollars.' I looked for No. 137, and what do you suppose it was when I found it? It wasn't more'n two foot by eighteen inches--just a river and a haystack and a cow or two. No. 294 was some bigger, but there wasn't nothin' in it except a corn-field--just a plain corn-field, with some hills 'way off and mebbe a few clouds. And there was a ticket on it, and it said 'Sold.' What do you think of that?"
"That's all right," said Melissa. "If you want to get money, you've got to get it out of the people that have got it. And you've got to go where they are to get it."
"And there was another picture that the book said was 'still life'--apples and ears of corn and a bunch of celery or such and a summer squash. Not my kind, but a squash all the same. About a foot square--one hundred and twenty dollars. What do you think of that?"
"I think the squash has its chance, the same as anything else."
"I asked the girl who it was painted all these things. 'This is the second annual ex'bition of the Society of Western Artists,' says she."
"There!" cried Melissa. "'Western artists'!"
"'Are they all for sale?' says I.
"'Cert'nly,' says she.
"'Are folks interested?' says I.
"'Look around you,' says she.
"I did look around. People was walking along close to the wall, one after another, a-smellin' every picture in turn. In the other rooms there was women standin' on clouds, and there was children with wings on and nothin' else; but everybody give them things the complete go-by. Yes, sir, let me tell you, Melissa Crabb, all those folks was once just country folks like you and me. Those there city people had all come from the country some time or other, and they was all a-longin' for country sights and country smells. They're Western people, too, and they want Western scenes painted for them by Western artists. There's fame a-waitin' for the man who can do that--and money too. I guess I'm beginning to see a way to make the old farm pay, after all."