Friday, December 3, 2010

Maud Lashbrook, the China Painter, 1932 Interview

Copyright 2010, CABS for Reflections From the Fence

Note, this is a multi-part blog post, part 1 discussed Maud, her painting, some personal history and how Man and I came to own a vanity set she painted. This post/part is a transcription of an interview she gave in 1932, so interesting, packed full of history. Part 3 will discuss our visit to the World Organization of China Painters, in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma.


From the Milwaukee Journal, June 2, 1932

'Pioneer Mother' Fights for Career; Wins Fame as Great China Painter

BY A. B. MacDonald

Blackwell, Okla. Seeing Mrs. Maud Lashbrook in the beautiful home paid for by her art, as she stands amid tables loaded with china she painted, one can hardly imagine she once lived in a dugout, that she plowed and planted and hoed and that her hands were calloused by rough farm work.

"What did I look like then?" she asked, repeating a question. "Did you ever see the statue of the Pioneer Woman over in Ponca City? That is such an exact portrait of me in those old days that I wonder if the sculptor could have seen me then, to copy me so faithfully.

Same Faith, Dreams

"When I started from my little farm house to tramp to town to take lessons in china painting, I was dressed just as that statue is in a sun-bonnet on my head, a plain calico dress, a bundle swinging from the crook of my elbow containing socks I had washed and darned for town folks to pay for my art lessons; a book of instructions pressed to my breast and my boy holding my hand and walking beside me.

"I do not mean, of course, that my face was as handsome as that of the statue, for I was a plain looking pioneer woman, but there must have been in my face the same faith and dreams that are in hers. Long after I had begun taking lessons in china painting my teacher urged me to give it up, to waste no more money on it, because, she said, I would never be able to learn it. I had no artistic taste and my fingers, blunted by toil on the farm, were too clumsy to do it"

And yet, this woman on the farm exhibiting her art in many places, in competition with the best china painters in America, has been awarded 900 ribbons. In 1930 she exhibited her hand painted china in the California state fair in Sacramento. Some of the best china painters in America are in California and all of them had exhibits there, but Mrs. Lashbrook won 27 ribbons, and in addition, her work was awarded the grand sweepstakes purple ribbon, which meant that it surpasses all others shown there.

Vases Bring $1,000.

She paints china vases that sell for $500 and $1000 and people come from all parts of the country to buy from her. For 10 years she has earned from $5,000 to $8,000 a year. She has put one of her sons through college and has set him up in business, and she will send her other son to college next summer. She has had eight motor cars, and each summer she and her son take a long vacation trip. All of this came from her china painting.

It is a remarkable story of an ambition to rise out of drab poverty into independence, of a perseverance that nothing could extinguish.

"My father, C. B. McLaury, was a poor tenant farmer near Nevada, Mo., and he had seven children" she said. "He heard that a strip of Oklahoma was to be opened to settlement and decided to try to get a farm. So, everything was loaded into two covered wagons, and we started for Arkansas City he driving one wagon, mother driving the other, while we seven children were divided between the two. In those two wagons we had all our poor furniture, what little bedding and kitchen things we owned and some farming tools.

Race for Land

"I was 7 years old, but I remember it all vividly. At last we came to the Oklahoma line and there we waited for the hour to start. I remember that vast throng awaiting the race. Father had gone down into the promised land a month before and had picked out the farm he wanted. He was to race ahead, with the fastest team and the lightest wagon, and mother and we seven children were to follow at a slower gait.

"At last came the pistol shot that sent us all scurrying over the border. Father disappeared in a wild rout of horses and wagons and a cloud of dust. When we reached the homestead, two and one half miles west of Blackwell, father had a cave dug into the side of a mound, and there we lived, the nine of us, in one dugout, with a rude roof of poles and prairie grass. The second year we built a small one-room house and the nine of us lived in that for three years.

Lived on Jackrabbits

"Just let your mind try to conjure up the inconveniences, the petty annoyances, the difficulties of nine persons living together in one small room. And poor! At one time 75 cents was all that father had. Even today, when my car scares up a jackrabbit and he goes bounding across the prairie. I exclaim: 'God bless you, my friend, you saved my life.'

"And he did. If it had not bee for jackrabbits and sand plums we would have starved to death. Father made a little money hauling freight from Arkansas City, and he planted watermelons on the virgin sod and hauled them to Arkansas City and sold them. We all went barefooted, father, mother and all, in those first years.

"When I was big enough I went to Gurthrie and clerked in a store for several years. Then I got a job in a store in Arkansas City and married Mr. Lashbrook, who has a small meat shop. We lived four years there and then bought a farm two and one-half miles east of Blackwell and moved on it. My husband opened a meat shop in Blackwell and we lived on the farm, he going back and forth. Finally we built a new house. I had saved up a little money, every cent of which I earned by selling chickens, eggs, butter, blackberries and garden truck. That money was used to furnish the house. I wanted a set of Haviland china and it cost me $45. unpainted. Mrs. Frank Foltz, who lived here in Blackwell, gave lessons in china painting, and she said to me:

Struggle to Learn

"Why don't you paint that set yourself? If you will buy the brushes and gold I will teach you how to do it.

"I sent away for the materials and she taught me how to paint the dishes. That was 30 years ago and I have that set yet. I soon learned all that Mrs. Foltz could teach me. I wanted to know more. I had one child, a boy, and I wanted to spare him the hardships I had been through. I wanted him to have an education. But the farm and the little meat shop could never do it. I heard that rich women paid good prices for fine hand painted china, and I decided to learn how to paint it better.

"A woman in Arkansas City, 30 miles away, was an expert teacher, so one day in a week I would hitch up the old horse and buggy, and with my boy in the seat beside me. I would start before daylight and drive over that 30 miles of dirt road. Arriving there, I would leave my boy with a woman to whom I paid $1 a day to take care of him. I paid $12 for each days lesson, and then I would drive the 30 miles back again, often getting home about midnight. I kept that up for a year.

Took in Washing

"To pay for those lessons I gathered up stockings in town and darned and washed them. I was an expert darner. That became known around town and I had plenty to do. I gathered washing, too, and many a night I was at the ironing board until long after midnight. In addition to that work I planted a large patch of blackberries, picked them and peddled them around town. I had a peach orchard and I put up the fruit and sold it. I milked several cows and churned by hand, and my butter and eggs and preserves sold always above the market prices in town.

"Bu' I never spent a cent of my husband's money. I earned it all my self. I never explained that to any one, and even my husband did not know how much I was spending for my lessons."

When the Lashbrooks left their little farm and moved into Blackwater Mrs. Lashbrook took high school teachers to board, continuing the painting lessons at Arkansas City and eventually giving lessons herself at 50 cents a lesson and selling a *** of her china from time to time. After her second son was born, seventeen years ago, she found herself with ***in savings. This she spent for a trip to California, taking her baby with her and studying under expert *** ers there.

Taught, Took More Lessons

After that she raised the *** lessons she gave to $1 and spe*** made on lessons she took. She ***ied under some of the best **** in Chicago, Denver and St. L*** journeyed to Trenton, N.J. to *** the making of the finest **** then going on to Boston, where *** eldest son was enrolled in *** Massachusetts Institute of Technology where she took more lessons *** painting.

By that time she had a class ** 3 pupils, each paying her $1 lesson, and a quantity of fine china she had decorated. For this she found a large and profitable market.

"The turn of the tide in my business came 12 years ago," she explained . "Then I concluded that I knew as much about china painting as anyone. I gave up taking lessons and my income began to exceed the outgo. Soon it climbed to $4,000 a year. I put selling displays in several cities in Oklahoma. In my first display in Oklahoma City I had $6,000 worth of china. Every piece I have ever displayed or sold I painted. I worked all day and nearly all night, often until 5 o'clock in the morning. I do that now. My boy does all the housework while I paint. My friends tell me I am working myself to death. But they have been telling me that for years and I am still feeling well and strong. I love the work. I would rather paint china than visit or rest or go to the theater. It is the best fun in the world."


Note: ** appear where the words are lost from the digital copy.

* You can learn more about the Ponca City Pioneer Lady at this web site.

** Further information on the Oklahoma Land Runs can be found here, or try a google search.  Maud's claim to be 7 years old, figured with the date of birth we have, 1875, does not compute. 

*** Note:  I have not researched her parents or their history.


Nolichucky Roots said...

WOW! What a woman. Impressive, to say the least. Off to check my china...

Karen said...

Wow! What an incredible story, and an incredible woman. I am so in awe of how hard she worked to better herself and her family. A very inspiring story, thank you for sharing it!

Barbara Poole said...

Carol, did you try to find the article online in one of the newspaper subscriptions? If not, I will try for you. I am so curious to learn what the missing words were.

Greta Koehl said...

What a wonderful life story. I especially love the description of being Sooners, as I think that's what my great-grandmother (the brick wall) did with her first husband. And perhaps I should be grateful to the small wild animals who may have kept my ancestors alive in hard times.

IrishEyesJG said...

Oh my goodness!!! What an extraordinary woman! Such determination. What I would do for one ounce of that kind of drive to succeed, no matter what the obstacles. Thank you Carol for this inspirational history of Maud. I'll now be hunting for Lashbrook signed pieces. Cheers! Jennifer

Apple said...

Such determination! Knowing what my ancestors made from the sale of produce and dairy products and how hard they worked to earn so little I amazed she did so well. She must have been one heck of a good business woman on top of everything else. A truly inspiring story.

Jo said...

Great post, Carol - what a woman Maud was!