Click Here To Purchase Portraits of the Prairie: The Land that Inspired Willa Cather

Author: Richard Schilling, Foreword by Ted Kooser

Publisher: University of Nebraska Press
ISBN: 978-0-8032-2260-1

Willa Cather created scenes with words and, in his new book, Portraits of the Prairie, Richard Schilling has created similar scenes with watercolors. The resultant pairing of these two artists, both equally enthralled with the beauties of the Nebraskan prairies, is an often stunning look at the rural Midwest.

Using Cather’s words as a starting point for his watercolors and sketches and adding his own clarifying notes on such items as his artistic decisions, the land, or Cather’s work, Schilling painted contemporary Nebraska landscapes, organizing them into the following chapters: “The Land,” “Country Roads,” “Waters of the Prairie,” “Seasons of the Prairie,” “Trees,” “Art in Unexpected Places,” “Homes and Prairie Towns,” and “Churches and Cemeteries.”

It is clear throughout that Schilling is seeking to bridge the century-old gap between Cather’s Nebraska and the one that exists today. The principal way he accomplished this was by painting rural areas that invoke Cather. Also, some of his notes compare the locales of Cather’s day with that of their contemporary manifestation. For instance, he notes that Red Cloud, Cather’s home town (and that of Schilling’s mother) is apparently half the size it was in Cather’s time. He also sketched a grain elevator, built in 1878, that he thought may have been described in Cather’s fiction. And although he could not, in most instances, determine precisely what specific locale Cather was recalling when describing certain prairie scenes, this is clearly not the case of “Homes and Prairie Towns,” a particularly time-bridging chapter because many of the structures featured here in watercolor were owned by people featured fictionally by Cather.

Schilling’s representations may not be the same ones residing in the imaginations of Cather’s fans but the artist obviously loves the land as much as the writer did and that passion is what makes this book such a beautiful combination of words and art.

Richard Schilling, who traveled the world as a missionary dentist and part-time officer aboard cruise ships, chronicled his adventures in his book, Watercolor Journeys. He has been an artist-in-residence in Isle Royale and Mesa Verde national parks. Ted Kooser, U.S. Poet Laureate (2004–6) and winner of the Pulitzer Prize in Poetry, is University of Nebraska Presidential Professor.

Click Here To Purchase Portraits of the Prairie: The Land that Inspired Willa Cather