The little one-room cabin in Eliza's backyard looked comfy when we went in to look at her Victrola wind-up phonograph in a tall cabinet. The records were almost twice the thickness of ordinary 78 rpm records and the center hole was much larger. She was proud of her collection of operatic records, and cranked up the machine to play one featuring Jussi Bjoerling a famous Swedish tenor, who was born in 1911. In but one fast glance at that cabin interior I knew I wanted to paint a picture of this wonderful collection of stuff.
At one time Eliza and her daughter did domestic work and assisted at parties for some of the wealthy village families. They were occasionally the recipients of some of their employer's cast-offs. This was probably the source of the black top hat hanging on a wall nail. There were batons tucked up behind rafters and small pictures dangling crazily from them. Large hamper baskets, filled with carefully folded fabric items, were shoved under the bed. A large, gold-fringed, 48-star flag was carefully rolled onto its pole and leaned against the phonograph. Several straw hats hung on nails. Also dangling from a nail was a 3" x 8" black and yellow metal sign, similar to a miniature auto license plate, promoting the campaign for womens suffrage. A box containing a large roll of green and white awning canvas was shoved under the bed.
There was not a picture inside her home as nice as the photograph of a nicely dressed gentleman framed in a twenty-inch oval gold frame hanging over the cabin bed. Its convex glass was typical of the 1910-1920 era. It was surprising to see such a fine picture out in this cabin. I commented on the handsome fellow and asked who he was. "That," she replied in a meaningful, measured tone, "is Mr. Miller (her husband);, and THAT is why he is out here." Mr. Miller departed the family home when some of the children were still young, and she never forgave him. His photo was doomed to forever hang out in the cabin where she wouldn't have to look at it.
With her permission, I began a painting of the cabin interior. I propped open the tattered screen door with my rear end, stood in the cabin doorway and worked on my canvas. A bleached skull with the coiled horns of a mountain sheep dangled over the low doorway close to my head. It was exciting to have such unusual subject matter and I soon became absorbed in my work..
While I painted, Eliza puttered about her yard, raking a bit here and there. After a while I saw her dragging a bulging old bedspread down the path. She had used it like a tarp, piling brush, twigs and trimmings in the center. She grasped the four corners with one hand, her cane with the other and wrestled this huge bundle across the yard. I felt guilty, quickly put down my brush and went over and tried to take the bedspread from her grasp. She waved me off with her cane and sputtered, "When I want your help, I'll ask for it." She was also fond of saying, "Anytime you let someone do something for you, you are giving up a bit of your independence." This old lady hadn't given up much independence.