Paula enjoys working in oils because of their flexibility and vibrancy. She researches into the past to find what she can about a particular musical title. It often takes her to very interesting places and connections. In the slideshow below you'll be able to see many of her oil paintings plus the stories (histories) behind each musical title.
Artist: Paula McHugh
inspired by the Titles of Fiddle Tunes and Folk Songs
A Kentucky fiddle tune in the key of G. Harvesting hay for your animals was an integral part of life in rural America for hundreds of years. The demanding physical work was offset by the sweet aroma of fresh cut grass, the warmth of the sun and the gentle breeze moving across the field, the camaraderie of family, neighbors, and horses, and the satisfaction of transporting your hay to the barn knowing that your horses and other livestock will have feed for the coming year.
In early America goods were transported from town to town via the rivers and waterways. The professional boatman spent years traveling down rivers and streams and back again, and became one of the most interesting figures of frontier life. He was of the restless type that in every period of American development has done the unusual and dangerous thing just for the love of doing it. “Dance, Boatsman, dance. Dance, Boatsman, dance. Stay out all night, ‘til the broad daylight, Coming home with the girls in the morning. Hey, ho, the boatsman row, Sail down the river on the Ohio.”
In the 19th century, American abolitionists created The Underground Railroad to provide slaves with a means of escaping their bondage. Traveling north at night from “station” to “station.” These “stations” were usually homes and churches — any safe place to rest and eat before continuing the journey to freedom, as faraway as Canada. As written in her book Uncle Tom’s Cabin Harriet Beecher Stowe witnessed the evils of slavery first-hand in Kentucky and visited the home of abolitionist John Rankin in Ripley, Ohio. During her residency in Ohio, she interviewed several former slaves who had escaped to freedom along the Underground Railroad. Many of her characters mirrored real-life individuals. The Big Dipper or drinking gourd in the night sky guided the slaves on their perilous journey to the north.
The square dance is an American institution with it’s beginnings in New England when the first settlers brought with them their folk dances - the schottische, the quadrille, the jigs and reels, and the minuet, to name just a few. After a week of hard work in building new settlements and carving homes out of the virgin forest, the settlers would gather in the community center on a Saturday evening and enjoy dancing their old-world favorites. As the communities grew and people of different backgrounds intermingled, so did their dances.
Not much is known about this title except that during the depression it was a common sentiment. I placed this title in the American Dust Bowl tragedy when poor farming practices and severe drought conditions created immense dust storms in Oklahoma, Kansas, the panhandle of Texas and parts of New Mexico and Colorado. Hundreds of thousands of people were forced to leave their farms.
Old-Time, Breakdown. D Major. Depicted is the Buck Mountain in Albemarle County, Virginia. A beautiful mountain in the Blue Ridge Range.
Hay season was a busy time back in rural America, and the animals did their share of the work. This American tune originates in the Texas Okalahoma area of the United States. The Lewis Brothers recorded it in 1929 for Victor Records. I used the long horn bull for this piece because they are so loved in the OK-TX territory.
Also known as “Indian corn” or maize, it is the most widely grown crop in the Americas. It was the calico corn that the native people cultivated that helped the Pilgrims survive their first harsh winters. The Native Americans grew several varieties of maize. They had sweet corn, popcorn, corn for flour, white, yellow, red, and blue corn. It was ground down to make flour and then cooked as hominy, mush and grits.
Following the American Civil War, Jesse Chisholm began driving large cattle herds from ranches in Texas to the railheads in Kansas City, where they were then shipped to the slaughterhouses in Omaha and Chicago. Many cowboys contributed lyrics to this all-to-accurate portrayal of life along the Chisholm Trail.
In 1910 Cowboy Songs and Other Frontier Ballads by John A. Lomax introduced the country to the music of the American West, and helped propel the cowboy to iconic status. The Western cattle drives were a unique moment in American history that brought together a diverse group of men, including freed slaves and confederate war veterans. Longhorn cattle were driven north from Texas to the railheads of Abilene and Dodge City or to feed on the lush grass of the high plains. And while crossing such an expansive and lonely landscape, men will dream. Roll on, roll on, Roll on little doggies roll on.
Black Sunday, April 14, 1935, refers to a particularly severe dust storm that rolled across the Central Plains turning afternoon sunshine to complete, utter darkness. It was one of the worst dust storms in American history and it caused immense economic and agricultural damage.
The miller was America’s first industrial inventor. He was builder, banker, businessman and host to the countryside. When highways were no wider than today’s bridle paths, the first good roads were built to the mills. Where there was a mill site, there was a nucleus for a town. Alan Lomax documented this verse: Ducks in the millpond, Geese in the clover, Fell in the millpond, Wet all over.
Most often played in the keys of G or D, this tune begins with a high note similar to the sound a donkey might make. A mule is the hybrid offspring of a male donkey and female horse. Mules are especially valued because they are hardy like donkeys but less obstinate. They are also more sure-footed, consume less feed, and live longer than horses. Charles Darwin once observed: “The mule always appears to me a most surprising animal. That a hybrid should possess more reason, memory, obstinacy, social affection, powers of muscular endurance, and length of life, than either of its parents, seems to indicate that art has here outdone nature.”
Forked Deer (pronounced Fork-id Deer) is a river in Tennessee but also an Appalachian tall tale about a family living in the mountains who ran out of lead bullets for hunting. It was winter and they had only beans to eat. Then the man got an idea into his head that he could use a peach pit, instead of a bullet, when he went deer hunting. After some time in the woods he came across a deer with an unusual white patch on its leg. He shot at the deer but it just ran away. The man was disgusted and went home. A couple of years later the man was out ginsenging and he saw what looked like a tree moving through the woods. Upon closer inspection, he discovered it was the deer with the white patch, but, instead of antlers, the buck had a full size peach tree growing out of his head.
The Whipple Company Store was designed by the coal baron, Justus Collins. The Whipple store is one of four built and today the only one left standing. Tennessee Ernie Ford sang about the coal miner’s experiences working for the coal barons: You load sixteen tons, and what do ya’ get? Another day older and deeper in debt. Saint Peter don’t you call me, Cause I can’t go.... I owe my soul to the company store.
The wood buffalo was a native species throughout the Eastern United States at the time of the 1600s settlements. Smaller in size and darker in color from the Great Plains bison, the wood buffalo cut gully-like trails through the dense Eastern forests. The trails were used by the Indians as hunting trails or for inter-tribal warfare and later for attacks upon white settlements. Early explorers followed the bison trails into the wilderness environment to establish settlements. Daniel Boone was one of the early trailblazers. In his writings of 1769 he describes many animals he encountered that are each no longer with us; the wood buffalo, the Carolina parakeet, and the Eastern elk.
Albert E. Brumley’s 1927 inspiration for this hymn came while picking cotton on his father’s farm in Rock Island, Oklahoma. A popular gospel song and a standard in the bluegrass world. Albert Brumley said, “When I wrote it, I had no idea that it would become so universally popular.” Some glad morning when this life is o’er, I’ll fly away; To a home on God’s celestial shore, I’ll fly away.
A traditional dance tune recorded in 1927 by Dick Burnett and Leon Rutherford for Columbia records. In the early part of the nineteenth century steam engines revolutionized travel and were widely used on large boats plying rivers and lakes. Smaller steam engines were used on pleasure-crafts allowing for a pleasant Sunday outing on the water.
Irish Fiddler, Kevin Burke performs this Celtic tune with Cal Scott who wrote it for the Lighthouse Keepers of Scotland. The lighthouse in the painting is Toward Lighthouse at Firth of Clyde, Scotland. In the past lighthouse keepers were needed to trim the wicks, replenish fuel, wind clockworks and keep the lenses and windows clean.
The “lost girl” in this painting was inspired by a photograph taken by Lewis Hine in 1913 for the National Committee on Child Labor, a private non-profit organization whose mission was to promote “the rights, awareness, dignity, well-being, and education of children and youth as they relate to work and working.” Hine photographed little Edith on the H.M. Lane Farm in Bells, Texas, where, along with other young children, she spent long hours under a hot sun picking cotton till her bag was full and heavy.
When referring to horses, a grey (or gray) is a horse whose hair has turned silver. Most grey horses have black skin and black eyes with white hair unlike a white horse with pink skin and sometimes blue eyes. Grey foals are usually born bay, chestnut or black base hair colors. By the age of one their hair becomes rose grey, salt and pepper, or dappled grey, which is often considered highly attractive.
Meriwether Lewis was born ten miles from Monticello, the home of Thomas Jefferson, near Charlottesville, VA. In 1803, he partnered with Captain William Clark to lead the Corps of Discovery, a group of thirty-three members that traveled west in hopes of discovering the illusive Northwest Passage, a water route to the Pacific Ocean and the riches of Asia. Over the course of two and a half years, they traveled nearly 7,000 miles. Also accompanying Captain Lewis was his faithful companion Seaman, a Newfoundland dog. Seaman even survived a serious beaver bite to an artery in one of his hind legs. Private Pierre Cruzette was the Corps’ fiddler. His fiddling often entertained the Corps of Discovery and the Native Americans they encountered.
The American frontier became the domain of the 18th century Methodist preacher. Alone on horse-back going from one appointment to the next these “circuit riders” pioneered gospel missionary work throughout the western lands. In 1806 Abraham Lincoln’s parents Thomas Lincoln and Nancy Hanks were married by a Methodist circuit rider in a small Kentucky cabin. Bill Monroe learned the tune from his Uncle Pen, and taught it to Kenny Baker, the rest is history.
A popular waltz credited to a Texas panhandle fiddler, Luke Thomasson, published later by his son Benny Thomasson. Benny remembers the night he heard both his father and uncle composing the tune on the front porch of their family home around the year 1900. Several sources have noted this tune’s resemblance to an Oklahoma-collected tune called Old Paint.
This hornpipe in the key of G shows how fiddle tunes migrated across oceans and land from Ireland to California during the 19th century. In 1848 the territory of California lured only 400 settlers to make the long arduous journey there. But then James Marshall discovered gold at Sutter’s Mill and by the next year 90,000 fortune seekers made the journey either by steamships around the horn of South America or overland in covered wagons. The California Gold Rush was on!
Beginning in the mid-17th century, a number of restless young men left France for the New World. Pushing west into a vast wilderness, they survived by trapping, hunting, and trading. They often married women of the native tribes. These men were known as “coureurs des bois,” runners of the woods. The most prominent coureurs des bois were also explorers and gained fame as such. “Old French” is originally from the large repertoire of French-Canadian tunes referred to as “Québécois.”
The Seaboard train called the Orange Blossom Special began it’s north-south run in 1925 bringing passengers from snowy New York City to the sunny beaches of West Palm Beach, Florida and eventually Miami. In 1938 musicians Ervin T. Rouse and Robert Russell “Chubby” Wise witnessed the train speed by the Jacksonville station and composed the now famous fiddle tune that mimics that fine locomotive. Bill Monroe recorded and popularized the tune in 1942.
A popular country dance of Scotland and New England dating around 1820. It was introduced by Nathaniel Gow at his Annual Ball in Edinburgh, 1820. Nathaniel Gow (1763–1831) was a celebrated performer, composer and arranger of tunes, songs and other pieces. The dance features a point where everyone stamps their feet at the same time, perhaps in imitation of the 17th century weapon, the petronel, that was known as a horseman’s weapon from which both the pistol and carbine developed.
A hypnotic tune suggestive of Native American rhythms. This painting was inspired in part by passages in Stephen Ambrose’s account of the Lewis and Clark expedidition, Undaunted Courage. A telling segment of the hardship endured by her describes Sacagawea almost dying with a baby by her side and only 15. Another about how she dreamed to see the great water and the monster fish and how she fought to be taken to Cannon Beach, OR to see such marvels. The portrait I studied was taken in 1890 by Edward Curtis, an Arikara maiden from the Great Plains.
Many musicians know this tune as the British Isles aire called Blackbird but Edden Hammonds, (1874-1955) a West Virginia fiddler, recorded it in 1947 as Queen of the Earth, Child of the Skies from the lyrics of a shape-note hymn called Star of Columbia in reverence for the United States of America. Columbia! Columbia! to glory arise, The queen of the world and the child of the skies; Thy genius commands thee with raptures behold, While ages on ages thy splendors unfold: Thy reign is the last and the noblest of time, Most fruitful thy soil, most inviting thy clime; Let crimes of the east ne’re en crimson they name, Be freedom and science and virtue thy fame.
In the late 19th century, the suffix “time” was often used to denote a particular style of music such as waltz-time, march-time, or jig-time. Rag-time was short for “ragging” or “ragged time,” an uneven, syncopated music created by black entertainers. Many Americans were introduced to ragtime music at the Chicago World’s Fair of 1893 where they also witnessed the exceptional sharpshooting skill of a woman named Annie Oakley. Her starring role in Buffalo Bill’s Wild West Show propelled her to become the first American superstar
Published in 1907 by Kerry Mills, Red Wing was written during the early part of the Tin Pan Alley period, when fads for all things Native-American swept the country. It was subtitled Indian Fable or An Indian Intermezzo. Now the moon shines tonight on pretty Red Wing, The breeze is sighing, the night bird’s crying For afar ‘neath his star her brave is sleeping, While Red Wing’s weeping her heart away.
The hornpipe is a medieval musical instrument, a wooden pipe with finger holes and an animal’s horn attached to the end. The instrument gave its name to a dance that became popular during the reign of Queen Elizabeth I.
Slievenamon is the Gaelic name of a mountain in County Tipperary, Ireland, meaning Mountain of the Woman. Considered a sacred place since earliest times, it is home to at least four prehistoric monuments and an ancient burial cairn on its summit. The mountain derives its name from the fact that at a fair distance and at the proper angle, the hill resembles a woman in repose.
A spring creek is a free flowing river that originates from an underground spring or aquifer. Spring creeks are often filled with very pure, clean water that flows smooth, consistent, and unwavering throughout the year. Sport fish such as brown and rainbow trout often thrive and grow rapidly in spring creeks due not only to the consistent water flows and low temperatures, but also due to the advantageous insect environments they foster.
Before the invention of steamboats goods and cargo made its way down stream on the Mississippi River on flatboats or keelboats. In fact, all movement that took place on the river at that time was predominantly in one direction. In 1814 the city of New Orleans recorded 21 steamboat arrivals, in the next twenty years that number grew to more than 1200. The elegantly festooned, multiple decked sternwheelers that graced the Mississippi river call up a long and colorful history that helped expand a nation while capturing people’s imaginations forever in story and song.
Kentucky fiddler J.P. Fraley (1924–2011) popularized the playing of this tune. An oft-told story associated with the title of this tune concerns a young fiddler who while playing for a dance is smitten with a beautiful young woman upon the dance floor. Unable to join her, he must watch with a heavy heart as she freely roams from one young man to another, like a “wild rose of the mountain.”
I just wanted to express my joy at finally finding the perfect frames and FINALLY hanging your beautiful artwork! Thanks to you, I will be reminded daily how beautiful it is to be a woman. Thank you, for the deepest of my soul.
~Margot Diaz, Crozet, Virginia