The way it was is the way it is.
June 29, 2014
VELOX WARD WAS, among other things, a preacher and a wrestler as he struggled through those years of rural living beneath the pines of East Texas.
It was his country.
It was mine.
We walked the same rabbit trails, ate from the same chinquapin trees, passed the same salt shaker when we stumbled upon a watermelon patch, and made our way down lonesome old oil roads that led to nowhere and to the wealth of the world.
Others grew rich.
We didn’t know we were poor.
We passed old run-down farmhouses.
Some were empty.
Most were still putting a roof over the heads of a dozen youngsters.
Cotton bolls lay limp in the fields.
Corn stalks crumbled into dust, burnt by an unforgiving sun.
The rivers were running dry.
Fish were too tired to leap in Tye Whiskey Creek.
But as I recall, Velox Ward was always smiling.
His philosophy was a simple one.
Times had been tough.
He had survived them.
They might get tougher.
It didn’t matter.
He could outlast them, too.
That’s where we made our memories, he and I
I write a few of them down from time to time.
Velox painted them.
My words will be gone with the winds.
His paintings will outlive us all.
Velox, like his father, had always been a victim of wanderlust.
He simply worked himself from one town to the next.
No reason to stays for very long, he said.
He wanted to see what lay around the next bend in the road.
Velox Ward only wanted to find the next road.
Over the years, he became a farmer, machinist, foundry worker, garage mechanic, shop foreman, salesman, sales manager, plumber, shoe and furniture repairman, wrestler, inventor, minister, and businessman.
“I was what I had to be,” he said.
Before a fateful Christmas in 1960, the only painting Velox Ward had ever done was on automobiles. His father had died, and the young man was trying to earn “food money” for his mother.
He wasn’t proud.
He would do anything for a dollar or two.
Velox told me: “The Chevrolet Motor Company needed a car painter, so I told them I could paint automobiles. Well, I never had painted an automobile, but somebody painted them, so I went in there and told them I was the man for the job.
“I went back over to this body shop. It was the only body shop we had in the county, and I got permission from the guy to just sit and watch him. And I did.
“Monday morning, I went back over there to the Chevrolet Company and started painting cars. Nobody ever knew the difference.
“The sales manager got a letter and threw it in the trash. It was advertising for a book I wanted to read, so I sat down and ordered it. I read about half of it, and I pushed him out and took his job. The book was Salesmanship Applied.”
Velox read the other half and wound up in a shoe shop.
He was working, repairing footwear, when that blessed Christmas of 1960 changed his life.
He was sixty-one years old.
His life was gearing down.
He was merely waiting for it to stop.
But his grown children suggested that Velox paint each of them a picture for a Christmas present. They had seen his scribbles before.
And that was the beginning.
The critics who viewed the portraits saw a man with the uncanny ability to paint poignant portrayals of an older life in an older time that was and would never be again.
Velox Ward had captured the heartbeat of his own past.
“I’m just painting my memories,” he said. “The rural life of my boyhood has influenced most of my work. Some people see things they’ve never seen before and might not see again – country churches, the old cotton gin, sorghum making, scenes around the farmyard, and even the outhouse with the Sears and Roebuck catalogue inside.”
His work, often described as primitive art, began hanging in the fine galleries of America. Velox Ward had one-man shows in some of the nation’s most prestigious art museums, which, he said, wasn’t bad for a preacher and a wrestler.
He was a happy man.
He wasn’t a satisfied man.
He told me, “I have started something I can’t seem to master. I won’t be satisfied until I can paint a house so real that someone will try to open the door, or paint a mule that anyone might say “getty-up” to.”
Velox always made a concerted effort to some humor in his work.
“I like to see people smile as they walk past and look at what’s I’ve done,” he said.