Agrarian Watercolor Paintings by Malaika Whitney
These paintings share stories of farming and agrarian tradition. Some are crafted from black and white photographs found in dusty closets, others are from memories told to me. They bring to life stories that have been tucked away and forgotten. Inspiring in us gratitude, pride and responsibility to carry on the traditions of our grandmothers and grandfathers; in both knowledge and sweat
When my grandpa first saw this painting he said, “Malaika you could have at least made the muffler straight!” and I said “Grandpa, I just paint it like I see it.”
Gilbert Whitney (left) walking from the barn with his father Horace. Though I never met my great grandfather Horace, his farm diaries have offered me invaluable insight about this land. From these detailed and steady records of the farm and stories I've been told, Horace has become an important mentor, whose wisdom I look to often. His son, my grandfather, I have the pleasure of talking with each and every day. His support and knowledge is a blessing beyond words.
My great grandfather Horace Whitney with a black lab puppy (there were many black labs on the farm over the years). Once somebody bought this card because they had a black lab puppy named Dodge!
A relative of one of the earliest settlers of Webster Township. I was drawn to the weariness of his expression-for which the bare wheat field behind him offers an explanation. He has gathered the wheat harvest from the field. Threshing is still to come, though in this moment perhaps he is reflecting on all that came before the harvest.
Beef herd of the Kleinshmidt family, whose farm was just down the road from the Whitney Farm. The Whitney's often collaborated with the Kleinshmidt's to share and trade work or equipment. Paul Kleinshmidt was around the same age as my grandfather and they attended the same one room school house as children.
Paul Kleinshmidt milking a Whitney cow with a Surge bucket milker. On his farm (neighboring ours) Paul milked Brown Swiss, however in this painting I purposely melded the two farms from two photographs I had found. The one of Paul milking I came across while visiting Paul and looking through his scrapbooks. Just a few weeks after this visit Paul passed away and I sure felt lucky to have had that visit. The one of the Holstein cow looking back I found in an old Whitney album. Upon showing the painting to my aunt, she immediately said, “Hey that's Donna!”
My grandfather as a boy, training a Jersey calf for the 4-H fair. The maple trees in this painting (as well as the red barn) still stand today, and are tapped each spring for maple sap.
A late sugar bush in Vermont, owned by the Sibley family. Two of the people in this painting are a dear friend Nick's grandparents, the photograph was taken during their courtship. This painting remembers a family sugar bush that unfortunately was developed. Thankfully the Sibley family continues the tradition of sugaring in another part of Vermont, on a piece of land that will hopefully stay in their family for a long, long time.
Oftentimes many neighboring farms would come together to thresh their grain, sharing a threshing machine and each others company (and a hearty meal). In the late afternoon the fathers would return to their farms to begin milking chores, while the young boys would stay behind to finish up the threshing and then drive the teams of horses home. How neat to imagine young boys traveling home to all corners of the township, after a longs days work, with wagons full of grain.
Lessons in painting a field:
It's not about catching every squiggle
or even capturing every shadow
It's about finding what speaks to you
and making it your own
Taking what you need and leaving the rest
Understanding that colors have a way of running together
My paternal grandmother Kathryn Whitney as a young woman on her honeymoon in Africa. My grandpa Gilbert met Kathy as they were training to be missionaries in Mozambique. They married in Africa, and after working there for 3 years, they returned home to the Whitney Farm.
After raising a team of Randall Lineback oxen in Vermont, I became fascinated with this breed-their beauty, temperaments, and diversity of purposes. The Randall cow and calves in this painting are from Terravita farms in central Ohio. We are now raising a team of Randall oxen: Theo and Buck.
Violet Oplinger was my great grandmother, and her daughter Doris, is my grandma Tiani, who taught me how to paint with watercolors. Doris loves to tell stories about growing up on a farm in Mount Pleasant.
I began to paint with watercolors as a child, alongside my inspiring and encouraging grandmother Doris Tiani. Throughout grade school my fondness of art continued to blossom with the mentorship and friendship of my dear art teacher Mrs. Art Clark. With high school came the opportunity to travel abroad in Italy, tracing my families roots and finding myself on a biological fruit and nut farm nestled in the foothills of the Italian alps. Attending, by happenstance, a school of art. It was here that I began to find my voice as an artist, welding patience and focus with instinctual ability. In college I studied agriculture and rural heritage, building a bridge between agrarian traditions of the past and models of agriculture that exist today. In searching for a balance between book research and a deep curiosity for the stories of farmers and farmland, I started to paint. These paintings are synonymous with the steady rhythm of the farm work and lifestyle I am embarking upon, as my partner Matthew and I help to manage my family's farm, carrying the considerations of my studies forward.