on the second floor of the 1855-vintage Neill-Cochran House in Austin is an oil
painting credited with doing what even high-priced lobbyists can't always accomplish
- swaying the Texas Legislature. |
The significance of the piece of art
goes back to the turn of the last century, when Texas lawmakers departed from
their usual weighty deliberations to ponder what native plant should be designated
the official state flower.
Rep. John Nance Garner of Uvalde thought
the prickly pear cactus deserved the honor. As tough as Texas, the thorny
plant produced a flower the future Vice President considered as beautiful as any
Cactus Jack's notion of having a cactus as the state flower
earned him a colorful nickname, but no cigar. The idea definitely got under Rep.
Phillip H. Clements' skin. To the Goldthwaite legislator's mind, nothing would
do but to name the cotton boll -- he called it the "white rose of commerce"
- as the official state flower.
with all due respect, the ladies of the Colonial Dames took Garner and Clements
both for blooming fools, as least when it came to Texas flora. The Dames argued
that any real Texan realized that only one flower truly represented the beauty
of the Lone Star State, Lupine subcarnosus.
| || |
in Fayetteville Cemetery. TE photo, 2006
| To underscore their
opinion, members of the Austin chapter rode in their buggies to the Capitol and
displayed for the members of the House an oil painting by a local woman, Mode
The piece features a reddish-brown pitcher full of bluebonnets
and primroses. The blue and pink brush strokes still catch the eye, an artful
rendering in a genre often cluttered with amateurish work. Walker's painting clearly
got the attention of the House. Oh, and the sweet-smelling bouquets of bluebonnets
the Dames placed on each lawmaker's desk also helped make their case.
Rep. John Green of DeWitt
County carried the bill making the bluebonnet the Texas state flower and it
passed. Gov. Joseph D. Sayers signed the measure into law on March 7, 1901.
So who was this artist whose work influenced the Legislature
as effectively as a high-powered lobbyist armed with campaign contributions, a
hospitality suite and 50 yard line University of Texas football tickets?
"Once a while back," says Neill-Cochran House Museum administrator Cecille Marcato,
"I poked around looking for information on Mode Walker and couldn't fine anything."
Indeed, a google.com search turned up no more on Miss Walker than the fact
that she had done the opinion-swaying bluebonnet painting.
information on Miss Walker seems to have survived the intervening century-plus
since she completed the influential still life, the painting has endured. Mr.
and Mrs. Pierre Bremond donated the oil to the Neill-Cochran House Museum in 1985.
(Located at 2310 San Gabriel St., the house is open for tours.)
Walker's painting has been credited with convincing the Legislature that bluebonnets
deserved official status, Marcato says there's another oil painting connected
to the issue. It's a bluebonnet landscape by Julian Onderdonk once owned by Mrs.
Sawnie Robertson, one of the Dames who took part in the campaign to gain recognition
for the wildflower.
In commemoration of Mrs. Robertson's role in achieving
official standing for the bluebonnet, her granddaughter presented the painting
to the Governor's Mansion in 1980.
Even though the Dames succeeded in
transforming the bluebonnet into an official Texas icon, the 1901 law had a loophole
big enough to walk a cow through: The statute specified Lupinus subcarnosus as
the state flower even though Texas has other varieties of Lupinus.
until March 8, 1971 did the Legislature return to the bluebonnet issue, finally
amending the law to add Lupinus texensis and "any other variety of bluebonnet
not heretofore recorded."
Brahma Cows west of Conroe|
TE photo, 2006