On respites from parenthood and homemaking, my husband watched over the kids.  I liked to get in the car and head out from our medium sized city into the very accessible countryside.  I put my finger on the map, found a small town and drove to it.  After a stroll down the main street, I stopped at the coffee shop.  I had a bite to eat, read a good book and in three hours was ready to return home.

There was conversation and comfort and considerations  that were offered to those who came for food and I came to respect the double duty that the owners and servers provided within their communities.   In 1985 I began carrying sketching supplies to these small towns in order to honor these people.  A suggestion from  Jim Hofstetter of the WI Historical Society redirected me on this.  He said in the places I had visited, maybe, it was a coffee shop.  But I should look for gas stations, bars, libraries, banks, etc, to pinpoint the establishment in each community and honor those places in addition.  For the next two years, I did that.

“Amazing Grace at Katy’s Cafe”

(With this series, I was playing “peek-a-boo” with collage elements.  If I’m not mistaken, the woman walking through the front door is collaged, but not the man’s newspaper.  The period I was traveling was one where farms were being foreclosed upon.  I saw many groups of farmers providing comfort to each other.  I fantasized that my own little people paintings would be hanging on the wall of the cafe also.  My understanding is that this cafe burned down a few years after this painting was finished.)

In each place, I quickly sketched the outlines of the coffee shop or street corner, and later, back at the studio inserted people from memory.  Of course, I changed details of physical appearance.  For instance, in one coffee shop, the weekly card game was going on.  This became “Ken’s Gramma’s Card Game.”  A little boy was wandering safely from table to table.  Ken’s Gramma didn’t have to worry he was okay; everyone knew everyone.  (The little boy’s name wasn’t Ken of course.)  He did wander over to look at my drawing.

“Ken’s Gramma’s Card Game”

I learned something during these two years.  What I initially saw as agape love being offered was more likely “belonging.”  That was comforting and helpful enough to the residents.  I came as an outsider, and  no one paid much attention to me.  That was a surprise. for me, who grew up in a large east coast city and who had fantasized about small town generosity and good will.  People were civil and all that, but no one ever offered me a cup of coffee that I didn’t pay for, inquired as to my own well being, or even showed any curiosity.  That was for those who belonged.  This was interesting to me, because it seemed to me no different from the large city of my childhood.

My idea was to take the show on the road to various small communities as well as here in Madison, WI.  In addition, the shows would be in non-traditional exhibition locations.  I did that also.