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Artist returns to rural roots

By Staff | Apr 29, 2011

Schuh's painting of a grain elevator is titled, "Farmers market."

DES MOINES-Ben Schuh, a professional artist who grew up in Dayton and Fort Dodge, paints all sorts of subjects in his unique style.

He captures images on canvas ranging from a still life table setting of wine and fruit to cityscapes to portraits of families. Trying to label his repertoire of subjects is fruitless, because he has so many interests. In Iowa, many of his customers prefer paintings of rural landscapes, stately old barns, and livestock. Many of these customers are looking to cling to their rural heritage, Schuh said, even though they now live away from the farm or out of Iowa entirely. Schuh now lives in Des Moines.

“In Iowa there are always people who want to capture what they came from,” Schuh said. “If I can capture it on canvas, it’s going to be there pretty much forever. I’m doing a little bit to preserve Iowa history.”

Schuh enjoys the rural landscapes and family farms, but cattle are among his favorite subjects, especially the Hereford breed.

Many artists paint farms and rural landscapes, but when Schuh paints cattle, they are the featured subject. “When I paint a cow, I treat it as a portrait. When (most artists) paint a cow, it’s just an animal,” Schuh said. “I paint really close head shots of a cow. I paint it as a subject and really appreciate it.”

The Henning farm was a painting Schuh did by commission.

To find exactly what he is looking for with his cattle paintings, Schuh drives through the rural areas of central Iowa taking hundreds of photos of farms, rural landscapes, and livestock. When he downloads the photos, he typically finds just 1 in 500 pictures worthy as a subject for a future painting.

He also sometimes gives farmers and their neighbors the wrong impression when he stops to take hundreds of cattle photos. “There was one particular farm where I found Herefords. I was taking photos and (a farmer) came up to me and was freaking out,” Schuh said. The man, it turned out, was looking out for his neighbor. He thought Schuh was taking pictures so he could later steal the cattle. Schuh quickly explained that he was an artist and he eventually convinced the farmer that he wasn’t a cattle rustler.

Schuh said he goes to great lengths to find a good subject, because he wants to be interested in the photo, so he can capture a story with everything he paints. “I’m pretty passionate about everything I paint,” he said.

Likewise, Schuh’s paintings evoke passion among his customers. Schuh graduated from Grand View University in Des Moines and counts Grand View University President Kent Henning among his friends and satisfied customers.

“Ben now has done three paintings specific to my family. The first was a painting of a photo taken of my father and my brother and me when I was about 4 years old.

Schuh's painting of this Holstein is titled, "Some people are black and white."

“After my father’s death, I digitized some old family slides and posted a few on my Facebook page. Ben surprised me by painting that childhood photo,” Henning said. “When he presented it to me, I was literally moved to tears. That painting, the farm scene, and the painting of the cows now hang on the same wall in my den. I still get choked up when I give myself time to sit and view the paintings, pondering the memories they evoke.”

Schuh credits Grand View University for helping him first find his passion for art and then developing the skills that enabled him to be a professional. “From sixth grade until my second semester of college, I had no art classes as I was always focused on math and science,” Schuh said. “Before Grand View, painting to me was walls and ceilings. The art department at Grand View taught me everything I know.”

Today, Schuh works as both a professional artist and a freelance graphic artist. “I basically have two full-time jobs. I work 40 to 50 hours in graphic design, but I’ll still paint 40 hours a week,” he said. “I’m constantly thinking in terms of being creative,” Schuh said. “I could have a terrible day and the most boring day but when I come home, it’s relaxing to come to the studio to paint,” he said.

Despite the marathon work sessions, Schuh also finds time to train as a marathon runner. He has completed marathons in Des Moines, Phoenix and Chicago and plans to do the Des Moines event again this year.

Schuh plans to attend several art festivals in Iowa this spring and summer, including ones in Oskaloosa, Des Moines and Grinnell.

Artist Ben Schuh.

For more information on upcoming art shows and ways to purchase his art, visit: www.benschuh.com.

Contact Dave DeValois at dwdevalois@yahoo.com.

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