Featured Reviews, VOLUME 4

Review: Portraits of the Prairie – Richard Schilling [Vol. 4, #16.5]

Portraits of the Prairie

A Review of

Portraits of the Prairie:
The Land that Inspired Willa Cather
Richard Schilling.
Hardback: University of Nebraska Press, 2011.
Buy now:  [ Amazon ]

Reviewed by Ruth Huizenga Everhart.

See an excerpt of this book here… (PDF)

Willa Cather famously said: “There are only two or three human stories, and they go on repeating themselves as fiercely as if they had never happened before.” It’s this ability to step back and see an ordinary thing with different eyes that is captured so beautifully in this unusual coffee table book. The author, Richard Schilling, has paired quotations from Willa Cather with his own original art, primarily done in watercolor, all of it focused on the Nebraska prairie.

Willa Cather, who is known for her fiction writing, spent a single year on the prairie when she was nine. At the time she disliked the rolling flat lands, but later realized how tussling with the land had shaped her. Cather’s relationship to the land is not sentimental. Rather, the solitude and rawness of the prairie sandpapered her prose to its pristine qualities.

A century later, Richard Schilling drew inspiration for his watercolors from similar landscapes. He conceived the idea of setting his own work opposite quotations from Cather’s work. At times he sought out a particular setting, and at other times simply tried to capture the mood, light, time of day, or season, of a particular scene.

In terms of format, there is plenty of white space on the quotation pages which face each piece of art, done in full color.

I happened to receive the book when I was on the way to a family reunion, and brought it with me. I noticed that a number of relatives picked it up and paged through it, enjoying it for different reasons. My 11 year old niece flipped quickly, noting scenes that reminded her of her northern California home. My 83 year old mother, who has read many of Cather’s novels, would not turn a page until she had pondered the quotation. My 21 year old daughter reminisced about her “Oregon trail” phase. When I paged through it alone, I thought longingly about the years I lived in central Illinois surrounded by fields of growing corn, so different from my current urban environment. This book would make an especially lovely gift for someone who appreciates Cather’s fiction, or loves watercolors, or is restored by the sight of a prairie.


Ruth Huizenga Everhart is a Presbyterian minister and writer,
blogging at “Work in Progress” ( www.rutheverhart.com/blog ).

C. Christopher Smith is the founding editor of The Englewood Review of Books. He is also author of a number of books, including most recently How the Body of Christ Talks: Recovering the Practice of Conversation in the Church (Brazos Press, 2019). Connect with him online at: C-Christopher-Smith.com

L10-Launch Promo Blog Phase 1 CTA 1

Reading for the Common Good
From ERB Editor Christopher Smith

"This book will inspire, motivate and challenge anyone who cares a whit about the written word, the world of ideas, the shape of our communities and the life of the church."
-Karen Swallow Prior

Enter your email below to sign up for our weekly newsletter & download your FREE copy of this ebook!
We respect your email privacy

In the News...
Christian Nationalism Understanding Christian Nationalism: Essential Books [A Reading Guide]
Most AnticipatedMost Anticipated Books of the Fall for Christian Readers!
Theology BooksTen Theology Books to Watch For – September 2022
B. EhrenreichJournalist Barbara Ehrenreich died earlier this month. Here's a few video clips that introduce her work
Funny Bible ReviewsHilarious One-Star Customer Reviews of Bibles

Comments are closed.