Lennis Leonard Broadfoot and Pioneers of the Ozarks
The Harlin Museum field trips are based on the Lennis L. Broadfoot collection of portraits, drawn in the late 30's/early 40's and published in Broadfoots 1944 book Pioneers of the Ozarks. Broadfoot grew up in Shannon County, and returned to the Ozarks in the late 1930's to complete what he saw as his life's work: character studies of the Ozarks pioneers. Broadfoot wrote in the introduction to the book ...the purpose of this volume of work is to preserve a true picture record of the pioneers of the hills, their strange customs of living that are so rapidly vanishing, and a life that is so different from anything known to modern folk, that it should be educational, especially to the younger generation who know nothing of the joys and hardships of primitive ways. His portraits vividly capture the variety of activities people were engaged in at that time, such as basketweaving, soapmaking, hunting, quilting, and blacksmithing.
Lennis Leonard Broadfoot
Lennis Leonard Broadfoot was born in a log cabin home on a farm in Shannon County, Missouri. Some of his ancestors were Cherokee Indians. It was a dream of his to become an artist, but he was discouraged both at home and at school. Nevertheless he developed his talent at every available moment by sketching home scenes and neighbors who would sit round the fireplace and swap tales of the old days.
After his mother's death in 1909, Broadfoot traveled. He went to the West, and while there he practiced drawing portraits of people. Sometimes they were cowboys or frontier characters. While in Montana he became a friend of Charlie Russell, famed Western artist.
Broadfoot can be called a self-taught artist though he did take a short course in commercial art by correspondence. In later years he has had his pictures exhibited widely throughout the United States.
Authors Intoduction to the book Pioneers of the Ozarks
First, I wish to assure you that each and every picture contained in this book has been drawn or painted by hand, and directly from life sittings, except one picture --"An Old Water Mill," which is a mental or memory picture --and that no photographs have been used.
Second, the medium used in this work was charcoal, except in the few landscapes, which were done in oil. The pictures were procured through contacts that I made with the people in and around their homes, as I have trudged throughout the Missouri Hills.
The short stories are such as fell from the lips of the sitters, as I was busily engaged drawing their portraits, and have been written in their own native dialect.
They are the true native types, and people that I know intimately. Every picture is a careful life study. I have treated them seriously, honestly, literally, and without injecting a vestige of satire.
Third, the purpose of this volume of work is to preserve a true picture record of the pioneers of the hills, their strange customs of living that are so rapidly vanishing, and a life that is so different from anything known to modern folk, that it should be educational, especially to the younger generation who know nothing of the joys and hardships of primitive ways.
For some of these drawings it was necessary for me to carry my easel and drawing material, and walk from one to one and one-fourth mile to find my subjects deep in a canyon, or high up on a peak, where it was impossible to drive a car.
I am sure that the first question to enter your mind, upon opening the covers of this volume of work, will be, "Who is the author, is he a native, and of what nationality?"
At this point, and as a means of introducing myself as the artist, author, and sole originator of this book, I shall endeavor to give you some facts in a brief story concerning my life as a native of the Missouri hills, how I started out to become an artist, that culminated in my present profession, and such work as this volume contains.
It is only a simple story of a lad who is part Cherokee Indian, as the name "Broadfoot" readily suggests, whose parents came to Missouri from the smoky mountains of Tennessee early in their lives, and later in years homesteaded a forty-acre tract of government land high up on a hill in north Shannon County near Eminence, Missouri, along the wild and rugged Current River, when it was only a wilderness of heavy timber and underbrush. Here they erected a small log cabin with a stone chimney, and began the work of clearing off the timber and making the little farm.
It was in this small log hut on the old homestead that I was born, and where I spent the first six or seven years of my life, being lambasted and kicked because I kept the walls and windowpanes of this quaint old shack littered with my crude sketches that I called "art," and which was the true outcropping of my art career.
My father, James Henderson Broadfoot, who was a quarter Cherokee Indian, but who possessed all the qualities and characteristics of a full blood, seemed to pick about the highest spot he could find in the Ozarks, upon which to establish a home. It was more like an "observation tower," but a very beautiful and picturesque location.
From the doorway of our old cabin home we could see far away into the blue haze of the Ozark hills. We could hear the sound of bells, worn by range stock, and could see horses and cattle grazing on the wild free range, on green, grassy glades far in the distance.
We were about the first in the neighborhood to catch the glitter of the early morning sunrise, and the last to be penetrated by its rays as it sank in the Western skies.
It was here that we could lie in bed at night and listen to the song of the whippoorwill and the nightingale, as they sat upon the clapboard roof of our tiny shack, and could hear the wolves howl, and the call of the hunter's horn far away, as the hound-dogs chased the fox on the hills all around our house.
It was all about the premises and surroundings of this old homestead that I loitered in my early childhood life, just a ragged, tattered, barefoot lad. I was quite rude, did about everything, except what my parents wanted me to do, and possessed the traits of an Indian to the extent that I carried a bow and arrow with me wherever I went, and a pocketful of chalk, paper, and pieces of lead pencils, or anything else I could use to sketch pictures.
I slipped and sneaked here and there about the place, secreting myself in clumps of brush, under cliffs of rock, behind logs and stumps, or even in the field, where I would hide in shocks of corn, seeking a chance to shoot something with my bow and arrow, or sketch a picture.
Slowly and quietly I crept around the barn, and with my bow and arrow shot and killed rats and mice through the cracks of the old log corncrib. Then away I went to where I shot and killed chipmunks as they scampered along the rail fence that enclosed our farm, and then back to the house, where I would sneak around and try my luck on the cats, and even on my mother's frying chickens; and this is where I usually wound up in serious trouble, and paid a dear price for all my sport and fun.
I always liked to go to school, because it was a splendid place for "character study," and a grand opportunity to refill my pockets with chalk, pieces of pencils and things, to use in my crude sketches on the walls and windowpanes at home; however, it was not too healthy to be caught drawing pictures in school, as I was many times, and paid the penalty by going up to the front, drawing a circle on the blackboard, and standing on my tiptoes with my nose in the circle for a long time, as punishment for my artistic ability.
My mother made me go to church and Sunday school quite frequently, though I did not like that so much, and often protested, but to no avail; and many times I did not get started on my way until after I had received a few lashes around the seat of my pants with a strap of leather or a branch that my mother had broken from a peach tree.
Our little community church, built of logs, stood about three-fourths of a mile down the valley from our homestead, and since I was compelled to go, I usually made the best of it, and went fully equipped to do what I could in sketching pictures of hill characters that dropped in from here and there; and especially our pastor, Joe Thompson, whom we called "Uncle Joe." He was tall and lank, and with long white whiskers that brushed his stomach, he would stand straight in the pulpit and preach a sermon of great length, giving me plenty of time to study and practice as I sat quietly crouched in one corner of the little log church.
In my natural desire to become an artist, I have since early in my childhood days, made character study a specialty.
I used to sit by our hearthstone in our old log cabin home, when only a small tot, and attempt to sketch pictures of the pioneer mothers and fathers of the hills as they came in and sat before our fireplace to smoke their clay pipes, chew their tobacco and spit, talk of the Civil War days, and tell stories of how they came to Missouri from the hills of Tennessee, Kentucky, Alabama, Virginia, and elsewhere in the East, in ox wagons, being many weeks on the road.
These were the folk that I enjoyed and who told the stories that I liked to hear, and as they talked, I made careful studies of them and tried very hard to get a picture, though very crude of course, but when it was over and they went away, I had some sort of a picture that I had made either with a cheap lead pencil on paper, a white chalk sketch on the wall or a slate, or with a piece of soap on the windowpane.
It was in those days that it occurred to me that some day, I would become a finished professional artist, and make a history in portraits of the pioneer settlers of the hills. With this ambition and thought in mind, I went on in my persistent practice of studying and sketching from life, sketching characters wherever I found them, with no one to encourage me; rather, it seemed that everyone wished to discourage me with the comment, "Oh, you'll never make it," or, "you cain't do no good at that." Still I refused to accept such advice, for I felt that with all the fun I was having in sketching hill characters here and there, I had a treasure of wealth in happiness, regardless of money.
My mother passed away while I was still in my teens, soon after which I decided to go West, to acquire a broader perspective by sketching pictures of cowboys and Indians. Like other artists of the "Regional School," I had this to do before I could appreciate picturesque subjects near at hand. For many years I roamed through the Western states from the Canadian border to San Diego, California, a part of which time I worked as a ranch hand, and in Montana, where I spent five years, and made studies and sketches of cowboys and Indians.
During my years of roaming I took up the study of art with the Federal School, Inc., Minneapolis, Minn., and graduated.
For a while I worked in the field of commercial art, making drawings for advertising purposes, but I have always been a "free lancer" and have never tied myself down to working for others; and never at any time did I give up character study and sketching, always thinking of the wonderful studies back home, and my childhood plans to do them some day.
My portraits, both in oil and charcoal, can be seen in many homes and public places throughout the country.
My later days in the West were spent in southern California, where I drew many portraits, and from where I left, when I came to Missouri in November, 1936, and began drawing the series of pioneer settlers of the hills, which I have on hand at this time, and which is a culmination of my dreams of childhood days.
And now after all of my experience in portraiture and studies from life here, there, and elsewhere, I have come to the conclusion that I would rather draw a picture of an Ozark grandmother loitering around her cabin home with a pipe in her mouth, than all the glamour girls in Hollywood.
October 1, 1941
Painting and text by Lennis Leonard Broadfoot, copyright © The Harlin Museum, used by permission. History Works is supported by a generous private gift and a cadre of community volunteers. Collaborating groups include the Harlin Museum, the Bryant Watershed Education Project, and the West Plains Council on the Arts.Top