Treasure: A person or thing considered especially valuable or precious. – The American Heritage Dictionary
The famous South Dakota artist Terry Redlin noticed a farmer looking closely at one of his paintings.
It could have been normal admiration for a scene well done, but in this instance the farmer was peering deeply into the landscape, as though he was trying to become part of it.
His nose was nearly touching the canvas.
Curious, Redlin asked the farmer if he had a question about the painting, “Bountiful Harvest,” which shows a grain truck unloading at a country elevator and a field tractor next to a wagon of grain.
Well, the farmer asked, how was it that the tire tread on the tractor’s right wheel was going in the opposite direction of the tread on the left wheel?
Redlin, scrambling for a reasonable explanation, said the tread went in different directions so that the tractor could go in a circle easier.
The farmer looked at him skeptically and Redlin laughed, knowing he’d been caught in a mistake. In depicting wildlife, outdoor scenes and nostalgic Americana, it’s one of the few he’s made. In fact, the executive director of the Redlin Art Center says it’s the only one she knows about.
“He knew he was getting a little creative,” said Julie Ranum, referring to Redlin’s tire tread explanation. “That’s the only example we have where Terry has come right out and said, ‘I goofed.’ ”
Redlin failed to correct the error before the painting was printed and published and it’s obvious that the artist relishes telling the story.
I was in a group that followed Redlin down the halls of the center that displays his paintings, listening to him describe where he saw the barn for this scene, or the bridge for that one.
It dawned on me that one reason he is so popular – apart from his gift as an artist – is that he is still one of us.
Despite his fame and fortune and a grand structure in Watertown that is a monument to his work, Redlin retains a modesty and unassuming air so familiar in our state.
At 68, Redlin still has images to place on canvas. He told us that he works on many paintings simultaneously and at the moment has 12 in progress.
He said he has more than enough to last the rest of his career.
What a career it has been.
(Mr. Redlin died last week at age 78.)
Editor’s note: A version of the above column first appeared on Nov. 12, 2005, in The Daily Republic, Mitchell, S.D.
May 4, 2016