By: Bob Francisco
I will never forget the day I became acquainted with this mountain cove and old homestead for the first time. It was early evening, late in the summer. It was one of those magical evenings when the sun comes out after a great afternoon thunderstorm. The air was fresh, clean; clouds of mist still rising from the hillsides and mountain summits. The light had a golden cast, the kind of light that signaled the waning of summer. The cove was blessed with lots of running water. Many small streams drained the mountain sides and converged into a larger creek that ran through the cove. The only sounds were the murmuring streams and an occasional call from the cows grazing on the steep hillsides.
I walked up the rocky road to get a better glimpse of the old cabin and exuberant vegetable garden that caught my eye. I noticed that someone was seated on the porch and was enjoying the close of the day as well.
The gentleman seated on the porch in an old ladder-back chair, gave a friendly wave and beckoned me to stop and visit.
Steve and Leslie Horton have lived on the Bank’s Creek farm most their lives. Steve and Leslie seemed to be happy to have visitors and invited me to take a look at their home and surrounding property. I explained to Steve that I was an artist and that I liked to paint mountain and farm landscapes.
I explained that this was a source of inspiration for much of my art. Steve proceeded to give me a tour and a storytelling session that I will never forget.
The corner stone on the upper portion of the massive chimney proudly displayed the date 1859. A piece of soapstone in the lower center portion of the chimney was carved with the signature of the stone mason. Here was the cabin made of hewn logs and sheathed with wood siding, several barns, an apple house and a corn crib made entirely of chestnut. Everywhere you looked there was something to see. Thoughtful placement even in the most mundane objects was apparent. There were grape arbors, handmade birdhouses, and a haystack made “the old timey way.” Even the wood pile was a work of art in the placement of the wood. A volunteer pumpkin vine draped itself across the split wood, fully grown pumpkins supported by fabric slings.
One of the most interesting aspects of the property was the vegetable garden. This was no ordinary vegetable garden. This garden was the most exquisite combination of flowers and edibles that you could imagine because Steve created this garden for his wife. There were rows of beans, then a row of dahlias in full bloom, tomatoes, then sunflowers, cucumbers, cosmos and zinnias. Steve shared the names of the antique apple varieties that grew by the cabin and surrounding hillsides: Black Limbertwig, Crow Egg and Winter Banana. Varieties of apples not commonly found today but varieties that had properties that were of utmost importance to a mountain family in the last century.
The beautiful simplicity of the farm and its elements gained much more significance as I spent more time and Steve shared his stories of the place and area history. Because the property has lived for so long, I felt compelled to paint this place and convey its very rich atmosphere. Homestead is probably the most significant of the Bank’s Creek paintings thus far. Homestead is really more than a picture of an old cabin and a garden; it is really the portrait of two people. Two people who have made a life in an isolated place, living in the present, but with an appreciation and respect for the objects and ways of an earlier time.
The first time I exhibited this work, I was approached by a lady with whom I was not acquainted. The lady asked about the piece and I told her generally where the scene was located. She complimented me on my work and said something to me I will not forget: “This place was loved. Not just by this generation, but generations that have come before.” Perhaps one of the most important goals that I have with my painting is this: To capture a sense of not just what is seen, but also to give voice to that which is unseen.