Until a functioning time machine is invented, the next-best way to travel backward into history just might be to take a long, careful look at one of Heide Presse’s richly detailed figurative oil paintings. In doing so, you’ll find yourself somewhere between 1840 and 1860. Zoom in anywhere—the model’s hairstyle, the appliqué pattern on the quilt draped over a chair, the intricate construction of the bonnet, the hem of the petticoat peeking out from beneath the calico skirt—and you’ll see the result of Presse’s meticulous attention to detail.
Presse is a gifted painter, but she is also a keen student of history and an experienced hand with a needle and thread. Both attributes have served her well in her quest to depict ordinary life in pre-Civil War times, something she’s been doing since the early ‘90s. When she wants to paint a particular scene from a particular era, the work begins with a quest to find the right clothing and accoutrements.
Night Falls on the Prairie
29″ by 24″
“Imagine a large camp of wagons within a vast plain in Nebraska as the sun drops below the western horizon. A woman soothes a young child, kept from sleep by the various activities, smells, and sounds that surround them.”
Eight Days to Denver
19″ by 36″
“Butterfield’s Overland Despatch Co.moved freight and passengers along the Smoky Hill Trail in 1865 and 1866. David Butterfield advertised express coaches, which also carried mail, as ‘Time to Denver, 8 days.’ The fare for one passenger, not including meals, was $175. While on a visit to the Booth Western Art Museum several years ago, I was fascinated with this restored original stagecoach and researched its history. The stagecoach ‘challenged’ me to put passengers in it, so I set up props in my backyard with a couple of re-enactor friends who do wonderful mid-century civilian impressions. My husband and son also came along for the ride.”