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COWBOY LOGIC: Paintings from the prairie

TOWNER, N.D. - My family has a knack for doing work that's interesting, but historically low paying. Like ranching and writing. The kind of jobs that require a strong affection for poverty.

TOWNER, N.D. - My family has a knack for doing work that's interesting, but historically low paying. Like ranching and writing. The kind of jobs that require a strong affection for poverty.

My mother spent most of her life ranching and writing as well. But, once upon a time, she had pursued another low-paying profession. For many years, she was a starving artist.

She was a pretty good artist. Her work wasn't abstract. When she painted a scene, you could recognize the subject matter right off the bat. She created familiar images from the ranch and the beauty of life in the outdoors.

But it can be a challenge to sell art for a profit. Some buyers figure the value of a picture for their living room should cover the cost of the canvas and the frame plus a little margin for the paint.

Art takes a lot of hours and a lot of God-given talent. That's a little harder to put a value on. In fairness, it needs to land somewhere between minimum wage and the hourly rate of a corporate attorney.

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So, as much as my mother enjoyed the satisfaction of creating a pleasing image that could tell a visual story, she laid down her brushes and put more time into raising her family and, later, caring for her husband.

Friends and family members enjoyed the limited number of original paintings that came from her easel.

Time to share

This year, I decided to share Mom's talent with a wider audience. I pulled three of her paintings off my walls and commissioned a small run of limited edition prints for each of them.

It should be a little more economical for folks to buy a print than a piece of original art. They can decide if they want to frame it themselves on the cheap, or invest a little more to dress it up with a custom mat and frame job.

I like the subjects. One has a rancher feeding his cows in the winter with a team of horses and a hay rack. His kids are being pulled along behind on their toboggan. Feeding cows doesn't have to be all work and no play.

A second is a summer haying scene from her youth that shows her mother driving a team and raking hay. Mom, as a little girl, and her brother rode out to the meadow to visit and an overshot stacker is stacking hay in the background.

The third, I hope, will be a favorite with the fall deer hunting crowd and the "autumn widows" left at home. Painted in 1958, it shows a hunter sitting on a deadfall tree enjoying a cup of hot coffee and reading "100 Venison Recipes." His rifle is several feet away, and, behind him, two does and a nice buck are trotting out of the trees.

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I think they're great, but I'm a little biased. I'm going to put them up on my Web site and see if there are a few takers. Like ranching, I hope we can cover our costs and put a little in our pocket to get us through the next year.

If not, we'll have 100 years worth of gifts for family, friends and random acquaintances.

It's probably not too early to talk my sons into pursuing something profitable like medicine or law before they veer toward the joyful family businesses of ranching, writing or painting. No, there's lots of profit in the joyful things, it's just hard to put in the bank.

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