Page 6


‘oaf 0.6 0.16. gasa. N./ Jr v . olse -sr \\\\ =. DON BROWN OF CADDO LAKE CADDO LAKE Thirty miles long, Caddo Lake flattens out across the TexasLouisiana border like a splayfoot, so a good wind stirs up a high wave. The Negroes see the whitecaps and say, “The sheeps is a-walkin’ this mawnin’!” Other times the amber waters idle about the hyacinth bulbs and giant yellow lilies and cypress roots and tree islands. A part of this lake is named Don Brown. Six feet tall, portly at 220 pounds, with features that would be cherubic but for the beard he wears, he has been soldier, professional football player, journalist, cartoonist, and college professor. He also paints. The long, leaning-forward catamaran cruiser he has just built rests on. two 500-pound steel pontoons, each with six airtight compartments. The lake stumps can pass between the pontoons and then slip past the blades of the boat’s outboard motor. A plywood cabin sits atop the deck, and with a canopy spread forward, Don Brown is ready for life on the lake, which is his object. One can see him already, cruising slowly from island to cypress clump, from cypress clump to some friend’s pier for a visit and a drink, then simply into the darkness for the night. He has painted a staring eye on each side of the prow and has christened the craft The Caddoan. When people see his paintings and ask him, “What school do you belong to?” or “Would you say that’s a kind of neorealism?” he laughs and replies, “Let’s call it Caddoan, ma’am.” He loves the lake’s gothic cypress trees, seeing in them sculptures and mystery; he is one of the four charter members of the First Cypress Church of Pine Island Point, the others being two pileated woodpeckers and a mud turtle. It is difficult for a plain man to discuss a painter’s work. I know principally that I like what Don Brown paints. Especially do I like a portrait he has done of a Negro girl who cleans up rooms at Centenary College, where he teaches on weekdays. His subjects, though, are mostly of the lake, the cypress trees, lake boats, Negro musicians at the bank, Negroes in their bankside shacks in the afternoon, strong young faces, sad old faces. Last year a man building a new grocery supermarket at Vivian, Louisiana, about fifteen miles from the lake, commissioned him to do a mural in the store. Don supervised the interior decorating so the colors would complement the mural. The painting, thirty feet across, tells of the lake from end to end, its blooms, cypress clumps, pine mounds, herons, water, sky, its life of its own, No art critic has been to Vivian to see it. Many more people are familiar with his fifteen paintings of scenes along the Mississippi River, made on a trip from its source at Lake Itasca to its mouth below New Orleans. These now hang in the Museum of the Mississippi River at St. Louis. Drawings by Don Brown I came to know Don a little on visits to be with Franklin and Huldah Jones of Marshall, whose wisdom and love of the amplitudes of life seem strange in the narrow little East Texas town they live in. They told me that Don is an artist, and that he is an art form, himself. His head is massive, bald at the front with clumpy, graying hair falling thickly of his pate, full cheeks in a laugh usually, a full mustache and goatee, a massive body. His voice is thin and East Texas and surprises you, coming from such a resonant-looking chamber. He wears short corduroy or denim jackets and limps from World War I as he walks along. Restless after the war, he went from New York to Paris to Caddo to New York. Finally, two decades ago, he settled down, got his teaching job, and started painting the lake, which he had never left in his imagination. Once, when he was reporting for the Paris edition of the Chicago Tribune, an American colleague thought he had him scooped and rushed into a telephone booth to call his office. “Say, here’s a hot one,” he beganbut he toned down at once, for he noticed some cypress trees on the wall of the booth. Don Brown had been there before him, scribbling. While reporting for the Tribune, Don turned out enough paintings, drawings, and etchings for a one-man show at the Galerie Jeune Peinture in the Rue Jacques Callot in. Paris. Edouard \(This illustrated story appears also in the winter issue of Southwest Review, the quarterly published by the Southern Methodist Hen-lot, Premier of France, came kept trying to hurry them both to the opening. A number of up so Hemingway would take French critics wrote favorable her shopping, but Hemingway notices, and Elliot Paul, then also wouldn’t, “me being an old friend a reporter and his opposite num sort of,” Don said. Don stopped ber on the Paris Herald, wrote the drawing before he had done one of the most favorable re as much as he wanted to. Some views of all. time later there was a divorce, Don can tell many a good story and the lady spurned a halfabout those years. Eugene Jolas, interest in Hemingway’s current editor of the magazine Transi book, taking instead a cash settion, , in which James Joyce’s tlement of $10,000. This still deWork in Progress was being pub lights Don no end, since the book lished, had worked with Don on was A Farewell to Arms, and the copy desk at the Tribune and Hemingway got $90,000 for it. invited him to “a literary party” Don liked Sinclair Lewis’ work in honor of Joyce. All evening \(“Reading Main Street in 1925 Joyce sat stock-still, his hat at helped assuage some of my feelone foot, a bottle of champagne ings about the intellectual and at the other, blinking steadily artistic atmosphere of Marshall, Mrs. Joyce flitted about asking lighted when the Tribune assigneveryone if he was a writer, oh ed him to interview Lewis, who how interesting, and if he was a was to be in Paris to celebrate painter, oh how interesting. Joyce his receipt of the Nobel Prize. said not a word all evening until Don’s city editor had been init was time to go, when he rose trigued by the fact that Lewis above two empty champagne bot and his wife, Dorothy Thompson, tles at his feet and told his host: had crossed over on separate “You gave me plenty of cham boats, and instructed him to seem pagne and nobody tried to make to be interviewing Lewis on the me talk. I have had a very good Nobel Prize but ‘actually to find time. Thank you all so much.” out how the writer and his wife Several years later, in Zurich, were getting along. Don had just picked up a paper Lewis told Don at once, “I back copy of Dubliners at a would like to give you an interbookshop and had walked a few view worthy of the winner of the blocks when, as he recalls it, Nobel Prize for literature, but I “There was James Joyce, walking don’t know what the hell to say.” up the sidewalk, staring almost He learned Don’s first name at sightlessly straight ahead through once, slapped him on the back at the dense lenses, and delicately every opportunity, and introducfeeling his way along the wall ed him to others as “my very with one hand. I wanted to stop dear old friend.” But when Don and say hello and shake his hand, suggested he sit for a portrait and tell him. I was glad to shake drawing, he raised his hand to his hand, or something like that, cover his face: he considered but I didn’t, I wasn’t so interest himself homely. At the end of an ed in writers then, I was trying to afternoon in an apartment in a paint. Several years ago I read left bank hotel, Brown was able he had died in. Zurich alone and to report that Miss Thompson friendless a few months after I was berating Lewis about the saw him, and I could have kicked company he was keeping, parmyself.” ticularly a reverend from Iowa Don shared an overcoat with who had been freely sampling Ernest Hemingway, a 25-year-old Lewis’s brandy. reporter for the Kansas City Don had one other meeting, alStar, in the winter of 1923, when though a brief one, with a litHemingway was trying to write erary celebrity. He espied George a novel at night. Later, in 1931, Bernard Shaw standing in front when the critics. fixed Hem of the elevator entrance on the ingway firmly on the skids, lobby floor of the Hotel Lotti in Brown was sketching him at a Paris. He approached him and intable of the Cafe des Deux Ma troduced himself. “Oh,” said gots, across from the old church Shaw quickly, “you’re looking of St. Germain des Pres. Hem for some witty remarks for your ingway’s then-wife, “a refractory newspaper? Well, yoimg man, I lady of the policewoman type,” make witty remarks for six shil lings a line. Good day!” He stalked into the elevator, having, of course, provided Don with a delightful little item for the Tribune. To be sure, a prudent man will take each of these tales, if not with salt, then with a milder seasoning, for Don Brown has the knack of the raconteur for finding in a situation the really delicious punchline. For example, we went down to the lake together from Franklin Jones’s lakehouse. We had a jug of red wine with us, from which we filled me a fruit jar, and I went out in a boat to fish among a strip of cypress a stone’s throw from the bank, taking a book, too, while Don sat on the bank sketching. Now and then he would walk up and down the bank a little to ease his joints, limping, his sketch pad and pencil under arm. He called out to me, after a while, to ask whether I had had a bite, and I said no, but everything was all right, which it was. When Franklin came down later, Don told him, in a voice he also sent out across the water to me, “Now out there’s a fisherman after my own. heart, I asked him if he had had any luck, and he out there with a book and a jug of wine, and he said, ‘I’ll say, the fish ain’t botherin’ me at all!’ ” Don Brown belongs to Caddo in the same way that Leadbelly, born in the woods thereabouts and buried in the Shiloh Baptist Church graveyard across the lake from Texas, belongs there. I said to him once, as we left the cypress grove where he was building his boat, “I suspect this is your nonretreat from nonreality.” He said: “This is my reality.” RONNIE DUGGER New Tax Chief Eyes Depletion Allowance As the second session of the 85th Congress convened, oilmen were watching Rep. Wilbur Mills, the Arkansas Democrat who now heads the powerful House Ways and Means committee. Though an intimate \(and Sam Rayburn, Mills has indicated a willingness to examine the petroleum 27.5 depletion allowance. Mills recently told Congressional Quarterly: “There is justification for tax treatment which recognizes that the taxpayer is selling a thing which is depleting at all times \(but there is a questax provisions are what they should be.” VDallas News editorially said “aspiring is as far as any Southerner will get” toward a presidential nomination in 1960 because “both parties are angling for the Negro vote which is the balance of power in states like New York and Pennsylvania.” Political Intelligence The editorial added: “If the racial problem becomes more acute in the North and East, creating dissatisfaction among whites, then a Southerner may be nominated by one of the major parties ten years from now. Politics takes curious turns.” / Two opponents loom for Congressman Lindley Beckworth of Gladewater: Shelby County DA Fred Hudson, who has announced, and former State Rep. Peppy Blount, who tells friends he will announce shortly. / Friends of State Rep. Joe Chapman of Sulphur Springs are passing the word he will oppose Congressman Wright Patman of Texarkana. JDudley T. Dougherty of Beeville has let it be known he may run. for governor. 7 Dick West in the Dallas News deplores a lack of political enthusiasm by conservatives: “One of the tragedies of our times is that those who have benefited most from the free enterprise system refuse to preserve it. Golf courses and country clubs are full of those who never participate in politics, who never give a dime to see that their county, their state their country be put in the hands of political leaders dedicated to free enterprise. “More than $25,000 is still owed, for example, on the Martin Dies campaign for United States senator. Mr. Dies can’t pay it. There is little inclination by others to pay it…. “It is not encouraging to a Dies or a Jennermore important, to a future Dies or Jennerwhen those who should keep them in office play with their putters and turn their backs on the political wars…. “Who’s working right now on next summer’s political campaigns? Not the conservatives, not the businessmen believe us.” / Wardlow Lane of Center can v be added to the list of state senators seeking reelection. He announced last week. THE TEXAS OBSERVER Page 6 January 10, 1958