Last weekend my husband Stan and I had the joy of attending the 9th triennial “Crow Cousins Reunion,” getting together with the descendants of Stan’s grandparents George and Vesta Crow. Family reunions are great places for writers to hang out because most of the weekend was taken up with sharing stories. People of past generations take on flesh and blood and the importance of their deeds carry on to inspire new generations. Accomplishments of the present generation give us all a sense of shared experience and the value of family.
This year, however, we were particularly blessed with the presence of Stan’s second cousin Stephen Cornelius Roberts and his lovely wife Anne.
In 1990 Steve, a full-time Nebraska artist, won a mural competition to paint eight panels in the Nebraska State Capitol's Memorial Chamber. Steve very kindly gave our family a personally guided tour of the building and his mural installation. It was a profound experience to stand in the top of the tower in this magnificent building and have the artist point out the theme and meaning of his paintings and the numerous family members and other people depicted in each scene.
The Ideal of Self-Determination mural depicts “settlers crossing the plains of Nebraska on the Great Platte River Road near Chimney Rock. This mural reminds us of the hardships and struggles the settlers had to endure in establishing their new lives.” A descendant of pioneers himself, Roberts pointed out himself, his wife and their son and daughter on the right side of the canvas.
The Scourge of Poverty honors volunteers who are committed to serving those in need of food, shelter and clothing, including his own mother in the pink dress on the right and his wife’s mother in the white, who both volunteered in soup kitchens.
As we studied each mural, the artist told the historic story behind it and explained how he selected every detail, insisting on historic accuracy in clothing and props and how every face (except those in the food kitchen) are real individuals. I was impressed that landmark Chimney Rock is depicted from the exact perspective one would see it if a line were drawn from the position of the mural to the rock.
As I heard him speak about the care taken over every detail, the research, the demand for authenticity, I realized that is the same process I use in writing my novels in my desire to give my readers a you-are-there experience in the scenes I create.
That is much of what lies at the heart of being a creative artist whether one works with words, paint, stone, melody, movement or whatever one’s medium may be. Thomas Carlyle said, “Genius is an infinite capacity for taking pains.” Few of us can claim genius, but, as creatures of The Creator we can all take pains to do the very best we possibly can with our craft, demanding of ourselves that our creations carry the ring of authenticity.
Donna Fletcher Crow is the author of some 50 novels of British history, including 3 mystery series. She tries never to set a scene in a place she hasn't actually visited which she hopes gives her stories a ring of authenticity and provides an excuse for some great travel opportunities. You can read more about her and all her books here.