Portraits of the Prairie


Portraits of the Prairie

The Land that Inspired Willa Cather

Richard Schilling
Foreword by Ted Kooser

176 pages
56 b&w illustrations, 71 color paintings


May 2011


$44.95 Add to Cart

About the Book

“As I looked about me I felt that the grass was the country, as the water is the sea. The red of the grass made all the great prairie the colour of wine-stains, or of certain seaweeds when they are first washed up. And there was so much motion in it; the whole country seemed, somehow, to be running.”—My Ántonia, Willa Cather
It is often called “Catherland”—Webster County, Nebraska, where the quintessential American novelist Willa Cather spent her childhood and found inspiration for her stories of European immigrants on the prairie. Richard Schilling, with his watercolor paintings and ink sketches, conducts us to that land, to scenes that might have influenced Cather, but as they appear today. Schilling’s images take us to Red Cloud, Cather’s childhood home; to the Willa Cather Memorial Prairie, a botanical jewel of mixed-grass prairie restored to its pre-1900 condition; and on to “the divide,” the high prairie land between the Little Blue River to the north and the Republican River to the south. Each evocative original watercolor is paired with an excerpt from Cather’s work and with the author’s own musings on the history, geography, and ecology of the landscape.

Author Bio

Richard Schilling, who traveled the world as a missionary dentist and part-time officer aboard cruise ships, chronicled his adventures in his book, Watercolor Journeys. He has been an artist-in-residence in Isle Royale and Mesa Verde national parks. Ted Kooser, U.S. Poet Laureate (2004–6) and winner of the Pulitzer Prize in Poetry, is University of Nebraska Presidential Professor.


“Even as a devoted Midwesterner, I never thought of the American prairie as a ‘romantic’ part of the earth—until now! This book, beautiful both in literary conception and in Richard Schilling’s exquisitely evocative paintings, makes the prairie as mysterious as Paris, Istanbul, and Shanghai. It will stand, not only as the greatest memorial to the irreplaceable Willa Cather, but to the until-now unknown and unseen parts of our own beloved world.”—Georgie Anne Geyer, syndicated columnist, Universal Press Syndicate

"[Portraits of the Prairie] is a stunning homage to Willa Cather and the corner of Nebraska where she grew up and which helped inspire her stories."—Laurie Hertzel, startribune.com

"Readers familiar with Cather's work will discover a deeper admiration of her writings while those just discovering her will enjoy the gentle introduction making this much more then just another coffee table book."—Sandy Amazeen, Monsters and Critics

"Schilling gives insight to the book when he writes that he felt it was time "before the color fades" to paint his impressions of the prairie that was the creative voice in the life of Willa Cather. His expedition to Webster County and nostalgic return to his own mother's Red Cloud home will enlighten Cather faithful and charm history buffs and artists alike. . . . Read and absorb the paintings in this book, and you will want to journey to Webster County and Catherland."—Robert Hanna, Prairie Fire

"Willa Cather created scenes with words and, in his new book, Portraits of the Prairie, Richard Schilling has created similar scenes with watercolors. The resultant pairing of these two artists, both equally enthralled with the beauties of the Nebraskan prairies, is an often stunning look at the rural Midwest."—Kathryn Atwood, BookPleasures.com

"Richard Schilling's Portrait of the Prairie: The Land that Inspired Willa Cather is a text that speaks both to those who have read Cather and those who seek to return to their roots."—Richard Jussel, Great Plains Quarterly

Table of Contents

Foreword by Ted Kooser
The Land
Country Roads
Waters of the Prairie
Seasons of the Prairie
Art in Unexpected Places
Homes and Prairie Towns
Churches and Cemeteries


2012 Nebraska Book Award winner in Nonfiction: Nebraska as Place

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