Paintings that pop with color now on display at Pratt County Historical Museum

Jennifer Stultz
Pratt Tribune
Debbie Withers looks fondly at her favorite painting by her mother Virigina Mills Garrison, now on display at the Pratt County Historical Museum for several months.

Bright colors splashed across paint canvasses in the form of cats, flowers and birds have brought joy to Debbie Withers in her Pratt home for many years, and now she is sharing those paintings, created by her mother Virginia Mills Garrison, with the public for several months at the Pratt County Historical Museum.

"My mother was very much an extrovert. She loved bright colors, she loved glitter; painting was such a joy for her," Withers said. "That's just the way she was. Her art was her saving grace. It kept her going. She would be thrilled that we are having another exhibit with her work."

Withers said her mother and father were 4th generation farmers in the Byers area. Fifth and sixth-generation farmers continue to cultivate crops on the Pratt County family farm. However, her mother and father were also missionaries and they (and she) lived in Latin America, Costa Rica, Chili and Columbia for many years. That is where her mother's love of bright colors and culture grew and was meshed with the natural aspects of Kansas countryside. All of this has resulted in the creation of unique paintings that pop with color, all while depicting the joy of family and rural life.

Withers said her mother, a graduate of Kansas State University and a member of the Kansas Art Guild and Women in the the Arts, strove for the tangible expressions of her emotions through color and design. And her efforts were notably successful.

"She had a bird picture selected for a prestigious art gallery in Denver, her pictures were selected for calendars, she had a lot of art on display at the Mead St. Gallery in Wichita," Withers said. "Her paintings were always very eye-catching."

Withers said that even though VG, as many of her mother's paintings are signed, literally painted hundreds of pictures, no two were ever alike.

"Everything was different," she said. "She was a teacher of home economics and art, but never had time to paint until she retired, and then she painted all the time."

Garrison's first pictures were large, the bigger the better, Withers said. But as the years of retirement went by, the large, often glass-fronted paintings became to heavy for her father (L.C. Garrison, Jr.) to move around, and so Virginia started painting smaller pictures, but they were just as bright and brilliantly colored.

"We were just happy that she had a chance to be creative," Withers said. "It made her so happy. She painted her joy into every painting."

Even after her husband passed and she had a stroke, Withers said her mother continued to paint.

"It was her saving grace," she said. "There was glitter everywhere in her room at the nursing home. She painted in her room there, and there was even a path of glitter out her doorway."

Withers said the seven or more paintings now on display at the historical museum were just a small part of what hangs on her walls in her own home.

"My favorite is the blue one, Bella #9," she said. "But I love them all. They remind me so much of her."

None of Garrison's paintings are for sale, Withers said. But she does hope others will take the time to come see the colorful paintings on display at the museum.

"It just brightens your whole day to look at these," she said.

Also on display is an example of a paper painting Garrison made, using an involved process in which she created her own paper by pouring wood pulp into a screen mold.

The Pratt County Historical Museum is now open to the public with regular hours 1-4 p.m. every weekday, and 1-3 p.m. on weekends.