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Saturday, Oct. 25, 2014

Gray Matters: Looking Forward To Spring

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

I don't know about you, but I can scarcely wait for spring. Here, however, we don't want to wish too hard.

If the spring thaw comes too rapidly there is a real threat of flooding and this area couldn't survive another of those disasters. For that reason I am turning my spring thoughts to the Texas Hill Country. There it means the coming of the bluebonnets, and what an amazing spectacle that is. We enjoyed it every year we were there, and an added bonus was getting to know one of the state's premier bluebonnet painters.

Let me tell you about Lyne Lewis Harper. Her first name was pronounced "lee-nee," by the way. We met in the church we both attended, and before long she invited me to visit in her home. Actually, I should say "homes" as she maintained two of them for a while. Lyne was born in the oldest house still standing in Fredericksburg. It was built by her grandfather in 1847, a year after he and other German immigrants arrived to settle in "God's hills." Her maternal grandfather was a noted furniture maker who had also built a house, which was one she still owned. It attracted many visitors who marveled at its unique architecture, and its huge chimney which served a fireplace with an open hearth ten feet wide. Proud of her heritage, Mrs. Harper used her abilities to preserve it for generations to come, and the iconic bluebonnets were almost always featured in her paintings.

Lyne graduated from high school in 1916 and was off to the Univ.of Texas to be the first woman ever to study architecture and drawing there. She didn't graduate but started teaching in the Seguin schools, taking correspondence courses to earn her teaching certificate. It was in Seguin that she first took lessons in oil painting from the wife of the school superintendent. She went on to study with many noted Texas artists and to attend numerous regional workshops.

In 1929 she married Henry Lewis, an independent oil operator who liked art and encouraged her to paint. They lived in the old family home with her mother while Lyne substitute taught and gave art lessons. Henry's death in 1962 did not deter her from pursuing the preservation of Hill Country history with numerous lovely paintings. She also served the broader community, designing souvenir plates for the famed Easter Fires Pageant, and for her church's Centennial, as well as painting a huge baptistry scene for the Baptist Church.

In 1970, Lyne married J.Watson Harper, a telephone engineer from Illinois, whom she affectionately called "Harp." They were living in his lovely home when I visited her, though she often took me to the old house to admire the historic preservation it represented. "Harp" passed away a few years after we left there and, of course, Lyne is no longer with us. But I am happy to report that she left everything to her great-niece, an equally avid historian, who proceeded to develop it into a splendid mini-museum which has become one of Fredericksburg's many historical attractions.

Lyne's bluebonnet paintings are rare, sought-after prizes, and we spent a good bit of time pursuing the possibility of obtaining one. That never materialized but I am proud to have a lovely watercolor of a single bluebonnet stem which she gave me. I'm looking at it now and wishing for spring to come quickly in that part of the world and to you there in northwest Iowa, as well.