There is one rule of being a columnist which I try to follow: Do not begin a column with the personal pronoun, “I”.
However, today’s column just has to begin with “I am an overeducated, well-traveled woman who has led an average life,” but nothing has been so very wonderful and inspiring as seeing all the people come to the unveiling of Doug Hall’s painting and mural titled “Neosho Big Spring Bluff” at the Neosho Newton County Library on Thursday, Sept. 13.
I want to encourage all people to stop by and enjoy it, then walk down the street to the Big Spring Park, waterfall and trout pond to see the 2018 version of what artist Doug Hall saw as a 1700’s scene with Indians traveling through what was the edge of a wetland swamp.
How did this come about? Neosho is the hometown of Doug Hall and myself. We refer to this joint effort as a “collaboration.”
I am part of his team as collaborator and writer when text is needed.
Doug is not the first nationally-recognized artist to come out of Neosho, but he is the only one who has not run off to Paris or New York to seek his inspiration or lessons.
He was reared here, schooled here, sold his early works here and is still here. He has traveled for training, but he began at Crowder College under the name of his grandmother who was the one old enough to enroll.
He sold his first painting at an Art in the Park Festival at about age 10. Doug Hall admires the frontiersmen who met up with the first Americans, the Eastern Woodland Indians.
That is his historical study and they are whom and what he paints.
He is a bit of a frontiersman himself. At the unveiling I shared his first leather fringed coat which his mother, Rebecca Hall, bought on layaway when he was six years old.
I then showed the leather leggings and fringed jacked he made from four does he had shot himself some 20 years ago.
I believe there is much truth in the words of poet William Wordsworth who wrote, “The child is father of the Man.” Doug had fine parental attention but since childhood he pretty much insisted on walking his own path.
Now he lives in a log cabin, rides his Missouri Fox Trotters and shoots black powder on Sundays.
I recently checked in with him to see if he was on schedule for a painting deadline and he said, “Well, I have just finished putting two front shoes on Sammy and I hope to get the two back ones done this afternoon, and I need to make some bullets.”
He meant balls for the black powder musket. But this illustrates that he lives the frontier life, loves America and freedom, friends and family and has not veered off his path.
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This child who is now a man wanted to be a frontiersman and a certain stubborn streak has developed him into the frontier painter who lives among us and gives us back a history we never got to see for ourselves.
He has made art a career. It is not a hobby with him. It is serious “work” and as he says, “It pays the light bill.”
Thomas Hart Benton is the earlier recognized professional artist to come out of Neosho but Neosho never really recognized him nor bought his work. He only returned here at the urging of LIFE magazine creator and founder, Daniel Longwell.
Longwell loved Neosho and art. He promoted the idea of a THB day and when it happened in 1962, 26,000 people showed up including Harry S Truman.
Benton then gave Neosho some lithographs now hanging at City Hall and we have what the Longwells gave us at the Longwell Museum at Crowder College.
Doug Hall does not do much commissioned work, but he agreed to do this painting which is now also a mural in tile. It was nearly 2017 when I asked him, saying that I wanted something Neosho could recognize and remember as part of our lives here.
He agreed because, “Neosho is my hometown too.” The park has been the venue of weddings, picnics, dances, musicals, festivals… even some Civil War fighting, and probably much romance by moonlight.
The creation of a mural of the bluff in tile from the original oil was a later idea and we are both really happy with the results, and so was everyone else at the unveiling.
It is a six foot by eight mural at the south entry to the library next to the community room.
With so many fresh disasters reported every day, the unveiling evening was full of friends seeing friends, laughing, enjoying the buffet and bursting with pride at our gorgeous library.
Doug said later, “Who would have thought the library was a happening place?”
The new library is an art piece in itself. I encourage everyone to visit the Big Spring Park, visit the Neosho Newton County Library, and build some memories as the rest of us have.
Besides the mural, two more Doug Hall giclee prints hang in the Jack and Rita Wood Genealogy Room and the Community Room.
The bluff and the library are only a block apart. Neosho is a lovely small town and it is full of happy people.
We love visitors and especially those who love reading and art.
(Judy Haas Smith lives in Neosho.)