Painting depicts family dairy farming values

Jan Shepel
Artist Larry Schultz was commissioned to paint a picture commemorating the 25th anniversary of the Professional Dairy Producers of Wisconsin. The original oil painting was auctioned during the group’s business conference last week. The artist here posed with the work during the conference’s trade show.

MADISON - Several years ago Milton artist Larry Schultz was aware that the Professional Dairy Producers of Wisconsin would be celebrating a milestone anniversary this year. As PDPW leaders contemplated how they wanted to celebrate their organization’s 25th year, they contacted him and asked if he was interested in producing a commemorative painting.

He jumped at the chance. A noted painter who has done rural landscapes and paintings of cattle and horses in all kinds of settings, Schultz immediately had ideas about what he wanted to include.

“For the 25th anniversary Shelly (Mayer, executive director of PDPW) and Julie (Gabris, the PDPW member resource manager) put the bug in my ear almost two years ahead of time. We met and talked about what elements they would like to see in this painting,” he told Wisconsin State Farmer at last week’s PDPW annual business conference.

“What kept coming to my mind was faith, family and future.” At that meeting Schultz grabbed his sketchbook and began to put his ideas on paper and the project started to come to life. The artwork, called “Faithfully Feeding the Future” was executing in oil paint and auctioned during the banquet festivities during the business conference.

“They were so good at explaining what they wanted,” Schultz said of his meeting with Mayer and Gabris. He took his sketchbook and worked on the painting for about six months to get all the details right.

Schultz was on stage to unveil his painting during the opening general session of the conference. A group of PDPW members pooled their resources and paid $5,400 for the original painting during the live auction and donated it to the organization so it can be displayed in the PDPW offices. The money raised has been earmarked to fund future youth and leadership development programs in the dairy industry.

Prints and canvasses of the work are also for sale; money raised will also fund youth scholarships and leadership development. (Information on how to purchase signed prints is on the PDPW website or by calling them at 800-947-7379.)

As Schultz began working on the painting he kept in mind ideas about family, something he knows is so critical to most farming operations, so he included an older couple sitting on the tailgate of their pickup truck with their granddaughter. “They are there to symbolize passing the farm on to the next generation,” he said.

The young girl with them is playing with a cat. “I try to include little personal details that draw people into the paintings and keep the interest of people looking at the work.”

The scene is a picnic above the farm, at the top of the cow pasture with dairy cows of various breeds grazing on a green hillside. “If they ever get a break from all the work they do, I thought this was something a farm family would really do. They usually do family-oriented things,” the artist said.

At the bottom of the hill is the red barn that was the type of facility of choice when the older members of the family began dairying. “I wanted to include the red barn because whenever anybody thinks about a farm, that’s the picture that comes to mind.”

Right next to that, and growing out of it, is the freestall barn that symbolizes the expansion of the operation when the next generation took over.

In the background is Holy Hill – a high hill in southeast Wisconsin with a large church built on top that is a landmark in the region and the state. “That was Shelly’s idea,” he said, “it being a kind of notable icon of the state. And it incorporates faith into this artwork. It’s important because it takes a lot of faith to be a successful farmer.”

The landscape also includes wheat fields and contour strips and Schultz said he took special interest in the way the light hit the hills and distant fields. He wanted to make sure the eye of the viewer was drawn to the family having a moment of peace and taking time for their picnic. The sun is shining even brighter on the farmstead below them, which was by design, he said.

“I like using light and movement to keep the viewer interested and to keep looking at the art for a while. I used the tall tree to stop the eye and bring you to the cows on the pasture,” he added.

“I wanted just enough of the various cow breeds to add variety. I like painting different breeds. Everybody thinks of Holsteins but I wanted to add some others and I had to be sure the cows were just right.” Much of the art he had on display at his booth in the trade show during the business conference included all breeds – sometimes they were all in one work of art and sometimes one breed was featured all by itself.

Not farming, art

Schultz began forging a career with his art in 1992 and started out doing a lot of horses. “Eight years later I realized that the horse market was glutted with artists and I realized I’m in Wisconsin and decided I was going to paint cows. I don’t know why I didn’t do it sooner. I can’t resist cows and looking into their big, dark eyes.”

Because it’s pretty hard to get animals to stand still to be painted, he said he paints much of his art from photographs he has collected and adapts his art from the collected photos. But he also has done “plein air” painting – a kind of painting made popular by French Impressionists that gets artists to leave their studios and paint or draw what they see right in the landscape. He also has had the opportunity to draw on memories from his youth.

“My uncle was a dairy farmer and his farm was my favorite place to be as a kid.” Schultz and his farm cousins, who lived near Evansville, had a blast running around the farm, getting dirty and then jumping in the cow tank to clean off – even though they knew they might get yelled at for it.

“We would herd sheep down to the one-room schoolhouse to graze – that was the lawn mower back then, and we’d use cow pies for bases in our baseball games. I remember sleeping out under the stars.”

Schultz took agriculture classes in school and hoped to be a farmer himself one day. As a young man he worked on farms but faced the reality that he was not going to get the opportunity to be a farmer.

Since he added dairy cattle and rural scenes to his repertoire, Schultz says he feels that he’s doing something to promote the dairy industry. “It’s my small way of promoting dairy farming, by depicting those underlying values that are part of the family and farming.”