KELLY BLUE by William Weber Johnson


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This is apparently the biography of an actual person, but the style is so informal, pleasantly conversational and unacademic that it sounds like that other art form -- an old man's reminiscences --almost too real to be true. H. O. Kelly was an artist, a 19th century man in a 20th century milieu. He was a character, a primitive painter and a gutty old man who had been a cowboy, ranch hand, farmer, handyman, machinist and practically everything else. A born wanderer, he describes his travels in the Western and Southern states of the early 1900's, chiefly in what appears to be his own words. It provides a detailed itinerary of jobs, changing fortunes and locales, that rounds out as a sort of one man's history of the growth of the West. Kelly's chief passion was horses , his ambition, to own a stock farm; but failing that, he leaves a record of how it was to work as a teamster in the days when men worked with their hands and with horses:- the amusements, jobs, breakfasts and mores of prairie towns; odd jobs now gone with the horse, and odder personalities; attempts at being a landowner in Missouri and Arkansas, and the sights along the way. Ironically, Kelly's one serious attempt to settle down and become a conventional success was on a farm, in what shortly became the Dust Bowl. After ten terrible years, with his wife and daughter, he sold out- just as the rains came again. Success arrived finally when, old and broke, he began to paint the scenes of his youth. Apparently the paintings were, like this book, full of simple detail, the smells of food and earth, the sights of countryside and animals, the songs of workers, revivalists and other folk of life past. It is small wonder that Kelly was taken up by collectors and museums. An unpretentious book and a happy one.

Pub Date: May 27th, 1960
Publisher: Doubleday