With Mother’s Day around the corner, many people look for ways to remember their mothers. Darlene Schroeder of rural Goessel found a way to memorialize her own mother by painting memories in watercolor.
Last Thursday, she displayed about 30 original watercolors at Hendrickson Chiropractic Center as a featured artist in Newton’s Downtown Art and Music Festival. Much of her work focuses on nature — especially flowers, country scenes, small animals and children, but her favorite paintings are those she made of her mother’s life.
“I have always been intrigued by what my mother’s life must have been like when she was young,” Schroeder said. “I had some little black and white photographs of her, including one of her as a baby. I wanted to preserve them. Painting them helped me bring her to life and stirred my own memories of what I knew about her.”
Schroeder’s mother, Mary Edith Flaming Voth was born in 1903 near Goessel, the oldest of nine children in a Mennonite family whose parents immigrated to Marion County from Russia. A photo of her as a 1-year-old baby shows her posed in a sophisticated dress and a glimmering gemstone necklace.
“I’ve just always wondered about that necklace,” Schroeder said. “I’ve heard how poor they were, and how plain they dressed. That baby picture has always intrigued me so.”
Schroeder painted her mother as a baby in the fancy dress, and then as a teenager in a much simpler garb. A small black and white photo of her mother working on the farm inspired Schroeder to create another original painting. The tattered photo she used as a reference for her painting showed Mary in a worn field smock type of dress and heavy shoes, leading a very large draft horse across the yard.
“My mother was the oldest and worked very hard in her teen years,” Schroeder said. “Her father died of appendicitis when she was about 18 years old. Her mother was not well after the birth of a child, so she took over the fieldwork and farm chores, organizing the rest of the family as the head of the household. I remember her talking about it later saying she just did what had to be done.”
A memory of another historical moment inspired Schroeder to paint a picture of her mother and father visiting her grandmother. Shadows flicker on the walls of a dark kitchen, the only room her grandmother kept warm, as Schroeder (pictured as a young girl) and her younger brother sat on a hard leather bench listening to her parents visit with her grandmother. The adults spoke in German; the children were seen and not heard, and light from the kerosene lantern etched permanent memories of much simpler times on her mind.
“I remember we visited grandmother every week, especially on long winter evenings,” Schroeder said. “She was a widow and never had electricity but when we came over she would come out on the porch and say ‘Staupe auf wie senn tüss.’ It meant something like hurry out of the car and come in.”
In addition to painting from old family photos and memories of times gone by, Schroeder likes to paint images in watercolor that she gathers from her own flower gardens and other natural, native Kansas scenes.
“I really like nature,” she said. “I just see things and wonder what I could do with that in paint. I get ideas from friends, from photographs I take, anything that catches my eye in a natural setting.”
Schroeder began painting with watercolors in earnest only about four years ago. She is a certified Master Gardener and a former museum director, curator, and gardener. Flower and vegetable gardens proclaim her green thumb talents around the farm she shares with her husband, Jerry Schroeder.
“He is actually the one who got me into the Newton art show,” she said. “He was at the chiropractic office for a treatment and told them about my paintings after overhearing the staff discussing whom to get to exhibit during the festival. Sure enough, a few days later I got an invitation to display my paintings. I really enjoyed that opportunity. It was a lot of fun to visit with the people who came through.”
Darlene and Jerry Schroeder have two grown daughters and seven grandchildren who live in the Goessel area and enjoy seeing new paintings every time they visit.
“I don’t know what I will do with all these paintings. I hope my children and grandchildren want them someday,” Schroeder said. “In the meantime, I really enjoy seeing memories and photos come alive with watercolors. I know what I do is different from what some others might consider good artwork, but I like what I like. This is how I want to do it.”
Schroeder said she attends a painting group every week at the Hesston Wellness Center and has several great friends there who also paint.
“We all do our own thing there, but it is nice to have their critiques and support.”
She currently has paintings on display at the wellness center, which can be viewed until the end of May in Hesston.