Barn Emerging From Oklahoma Prairie


By Arthur H. Gunther III


Each person’s creative process is suited to the individual. For example, if I write a column, I may have an idea on the spot or one a longtime before, squirreled away until it has stewed enough to be further seasoned, prepared, delivered, and, hopefully, digested. I never think about what’s in the pot until I add the flavors because if I write an essay in my head, say on a car ride, when I do sit down to type, the creative moment will have been lost.

It’s the same thing with a painting. When I do one, the idea is not explored ahead of time beyond the basic concept. I may think color, line, form, but I do not make the piece in my head, for, again, the creativity will have happened there and what follows will be a photocopy.

In both writing and painting, I try to tell a story or make an observation that unfolds as I write or paint. It’s like dipping into a stream of running thought, grabbing this or that word, this or that color to build the piece.

I mention the process because of what I hope I am trying to get across today. A painting I finished last week — “Barn Emerging from Oklahoma Prairie” — began on a 24×24 plywood sheet as a red field. I then had an image in mind of a working barn, perhaps for horses, similar to one behind my parents’ rented house in Tallman, N.Y., in late 1949. My brother and I would run off after supper and look at the horses, chickens and ducks, pretending that the big field next to the barn was the Wild West and that we were cowboys. Of course, that image is in our heads forever and informs our continued living, just as images do for all of us.

So, with a barn image in mind and a red field, I began to paint the piece, adding the colors I wanted straight from the tubes and mixing others until a mood developed, and a story began. With the painting left untouched for a time and then a return to it (which is unlike my writing), and that process repeated, the painting was layered with colors, or chapters as it were, and  I then used razor blades to scrape parts of the wood panel, probably to show what had been, just as we do in our lives.

Eventually, I was finished, and I realized I had painted — “written” — the story of an empty barn in the Oklahoma dust bowl of the Great Depression. I see the Okies’ anger, resentment, but I notice their pride, too,  in the land, in that fine building, in the color of the prairie.

Perhaps such a barn is still there, decades beyond the Depression, after a terrible, second war in the world, after so many other battles, recessions, job losses, national and international ups and downs and numerous presidents and other leaders.

The painting then became optimistic, for like the Okies, I think that no matter what the “depression,” be it economic or as today, a paucity of sound political thought, reverence for what has so far been achieved and greed rather than deliberate, responsible investment in all our children’s future, there will be a barn to come home too, a place for the horses again, for the goodness is in the people themselves.

May that be our nation’s destiny.

The writer is a retired newspaperman who can be reached at ahgunther@hotmail.com This essay may be reproduced.


February 22, 2016

By Arthur H. Gunther III


Not sure how the man born on this date, Feb. 22 in 1732, would have fared in the recent tumultuous presidential primary voting or if the “father of our country” would have been elected in November 2016. Such are the dynamic shifts following the waves of exasperation, distrust, ignorance and yearning for direction, for a leader this time around.

George Washington was the right person for his time, our country’s first presidency. He did not want the job, was determined to serve but then to move on, feared he would be the new royalty. His great sense of balance and calm leadership — shown on the battlefield — stabilized the footing for the office of the president of the United Stares. He was a blessing, meant to be.

For decades in most American schools, students looked up at a blackboard above which was cursive writing and to the left and right of which were portraits of George Washington and Abraham Lincoln, respectively the father of the nation and the successor parent who put the house together knowing that if divided, it would not stand.

The great respect given these two elected leaders was assumed in those old classrooms. Now, even as cursive writing seems lost in the current of ignorant history, the standards set by Washington and Lincoln in their fatherly, guiding service are chapters never read by too many in the electorate, who would cock an ear only to jingoism and P.T. Barnum hawking.

Presidential elections have been toward the gutter before just as they have soared in articulation, common sense and goose pimples. Most have been ordinary, and maybe that’s what Anerica is often about — being ordinary in its particular time. Ordinary enough for the average person to earn a living, raise a family with expectations that betterment will come for the children, assurance that the clocks are wound and the fields planted and harvested, and that a general purring exists, like the cat curled up on the sofa who stretches his paws in assured and trusting comfort.

But today is a scary time, and we the people know not what is to happen come November, nor in the months before, and, most assuredly, in the four years, or eight, afterward.

So many had watershed hopes in 2008, but so very quickly they were dashed in a concerted effort to deny a leader  his chance to do better for the nation. Special interests, the financial and ideological roots of which are so hidden and sanctioned by the High Court, attacked the current president from the start, and though accomplishment was obtained, certainly over the destruction of the previous eight years of war, favoritism for the 1 percent and the groundwork for a near depression, what could have been a heralding of singing angels became articulation echoing against a shrill singalong of lies.

Today,  George Washington would have been 284, born in His Majesty’s American colonies, but his bones long lie in soil almost not secured in a revolution, almost torn asunder by a civil war, almost disturbed by decades of political dissent but for so many generations revered as the eternal resting place of the best example of the American presidency.

Would that all of today’s presidential candidates met at Mount Vernon and vowed to learn that fact and respect it going forward, wherever that may be.

The writer is a retired newspaperman who can be reached at ahgunther@hotmail.com


February 14, 2015

By Arthur H. Gunther III


If we could count the number of valentines not sent on this day in seasons past, they might amount to many unanswered letters. For that is what a valentine is, a response.

Perhaps beyond the teacher-inspired handmade cards that you were to bring home to your mom in the lower grades, you never let her know again your response to her concerns, care, love for you.

Maybe you meant to put together more of those cut-out 5&10-cent-store hearts and cupids that classmates assembled. But you neglected to send one to her or him, an unanswered response to that person’s interests.

Then there was the dating time, and you were ignorant of not only what was expected but what a well-chosen card and a few simple but truly meant words could mean to the other person. Responses ignored.

In marriage, there can also be ignorance or forgetting, but the need to reinforce, to repeat affection and gratefulness and so many other gathered emotions does not disappear even in the regular day-to-day accomplishment. Responses are necessary, reaffirmation of giving.

Lost opportunity, that, when emotion, in whatever form — a card, words, a deep look in the eyes, a touch in passing — does not happen. They are the valentines that should have been sent.

The writer is a retired newspaperman who be reached at ahgunther@hotmail.com



February 8, 2016

By Arthur H. Gunther III


Any good farmer knows that if you don’t plant the best seed in cultivated soil and nurture growth against nature and other adversity, the pickings will prove slim. Simple truth, but the basics are often overlooked. There is also the true story of a prize-winning corn grower who shared his special seed with his neighbors. Why? Because corn is pollinated, and he did not want his own fine crop reduced in quality. Practicality is the farmer’s suit.

If Will Rogers were still with us and offering his homespun take on politics, and, specifically, this year’s “presidential” campaign — if you can call it that — he would most likely use farming references, among other commonplace themes. His genius was in explaining the profound with simple examples.

Perhaps one of his analogies today would be the fact that when most politicians, particularly leaders, move on, they make lots of money. Both Clintons are an example, so are the Bushes. Speech fees, serving on corporation or other boards, and sheer star power bring in big bucks. Rogers might offer in contrast the last will and testament of the great optimist, Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes, the “Magnificent Yankee,” who bequeathed the bulk of his estate, some $250,000, to the Government of the United States.

He did so because he believed in the institution, the fundamentals of which he helped secure but also because he knew that such seed money, however small in comparison to even a Great Depression-era national budget, would make all the crops grow with more vigor and strength. So, he  was a farmer of sorts.

Another Rogers example, if he had lived, would be Harry S Truman, who upon leaving office and arriving by train — not a presidential jet — to his wife’s Independence, Missouri, house, was told by Bess to “take the valises up into the attic, Harry.” The president, who assumed the reins in World War II and managed into the Cold War, knew his power ended with President Eisenhower’s oath. Truman so greatly respected American history that he understood you had to humble yourself once out of office. There was no royalty, and, besides, even the grandeur of the White House is supposed to end for the individual with the term of office.

The former president also refused to join boards for he would not trade on the presidency. His poor economic situation (ex-presidents had no pensions or Secret Service aides in 1952) ended only with publication of his first book.

None of us know, and Will Rogers would not have been able to forecast either, where the 2016 presidential race will go and how it will end. Will there be yet another potential leader who sounds good, makes promises but either cannot govern or is blocked from that by the growing special interests? Will there be a non-thinker, a platitude-offering person in the Oval Office, with the red nuclear button at bedside?

Will the new president be so very well-intentioned, even bright, but kept from reality by the great ring of advisers, aides, generals and others who have his ear when no ordinary person can get the people’s words (“commonsense”) across?

The farmer knows there are fields to be cultivated, not only his, and that against adversity of all sorts the best seed must be planted, and for all. Holmes and Truman were American “farmers” who saw public service as a privilege, a trust. Anyone now on the stump willing to get behind a plow?

    The writer is a retired newspaperman who can be reached at ahgunther@hotmail.com