What happens when you take a little ten year old boy out of the big city and send him to the countryside? He just might see things and do things that are so different from his previous experience that they may stay with him forever. Today Bill Barrell remembers his youth and those cows from the English countryside. He tells how they instigated his fascination with cows and why they keep showing up in his paintings.
– Cows. I have always had a fascination with cows. It goes back to the beginning of World War Two.
Early in the war the winter of 1941 , one of the coldest winters in the recorded history of weather in England, my mother became sick with pleurisy and was hospitalized . My brother, two sisters and I were moved from our home in London and placed in the home of Dr. Bernados. While there, Terry, my elder brother, was put in charge of some of the milk supplies. At one point, somebody had begun to water the milk down. Terry reported it. It caused a ruckus and we were transferred to an estate in Norfolk .
In Norfolk, we had to go out and play after tea and it was very cold . We would wander into a field and make cows get up so we could lay in their warm spot . When that spot got cold we would move to the next cow . So began my liking of cows!
Later, when I was evacuated to a farm in the north of England, I would help the farmer milk his cows. One time a cow got into a clover patch a ended up with a bad case of gas. They can die from a gas attack. The vet was sent for and I stood by and watched him cut a hole in its side, insert a tube and release the gas. I often held the cow’s head during this process. Another time in the middle of the night, I helped the farmer birth a calf. That’s when I learned a calf came out feet first. This was quite a lot of learning for a Cockney boy of ten.
Many years later I visited my younger brother Budge in the countryside of Canada. There was a huge dairy farm down in a valley. One afternoon I went for a walk and as I looked across the meadow, there were the cows wending their way to the milking barns. What amazed me was that they were in single file on one little path that went around a hill out of sight . They were so calm and placid, no pushing or shoving and when one would stop – the one behind it would stop. It was a grand sight. You know, not too long ago, there was an outbreak of mad cow disease that disturbed me. There was no reason for it to happen. It had been predicted in 1945 that if cows were fed meat they would go mad. It was all based on greed. It led me to do what I do not normally do, I painted a mad cow series. “Canadian Cows” does not come from that series ( Mad Cows – a blog for another time), but this painting comes from the scene I took in while I was in Canada.