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Perhaps the best way to appreciate the art work of Harvey Bernard is to get a better understanding of his life. Harvey Bernard is a native of the Chosen Valley. Born and raised outside of Chatfield, he has lived in the area his whole life. He grew up the son of farmers and attended a one room school house, the Bernard School, with his brothers and cousins and other family members. You see, in those days the schools were located in such a way that no child had to walk more than two miles to school. So much for the old "five miles in chest deep snow, up hill both ways" story.
The Bernard school was located on the Bernard family farm and when a young teacher came, she would quite often board at one of the Bernard family’s homes.
Attending school in a one room schoolhouse was both a trial and a joy. Some winters mornings were so cold that it was difficult for the children to focus their attention on the teacher. Also those long trips out behind the school could be quite unpleasant; in the winter you froze and in the fall it was the flies. But there was joy too, like bringing your dinner (lunch) in a bucket and warming it all morning on the big iron furnace. By noon the food was hot and smelled delicious.
Harvey is a wealth of information regarding the formative years of the Chosen Valley. The school house he attended has been restored and moved to its present location west of Chatfield on Highway 30 and serves as the home of the Country Art Gallery. It contains the original desks for both the students and teachers. The old stove still stands in the corner keeping watch over the treasures. There is also a scrap book of pictures, report cards, and handwritten memories from graduates of the old country school.
It was at that school that Harvey Bernard first learned of his talent for drawing. The busy life of a farm boy during the depression didn’t allow much time for artwork. But in 1946, Harvey’s life took a turn and he soon found that he had nothing but time on his hands.
WWII was over and the U.S. was in one of it’s prosperous periods. New homes were being built, which required laborers and those laborers had to eat, so farming was good. Harvey was happy to help out on his fathers farm. In the fall of that year, polio struck young Harvey and he would spend the next year and a half in the Polio Ward at Mayo Clinic. Thanks to the work of Franklin Delano Roosevelt the National Foundation for Infantile Paralysis (NFIP) had been set up and was responsible for the care and treatment of polio victims.
Poliomyelitis was a contagious disease with conditions that varied from flu-like symptoms to severe back and neck pain and paralysis. At its onset it was impossible to tell to what degree a person might be effected. Current medical information is rather sketchy as to how many actual cases of polio were contracted in the U.S. Some were so mildly stricken that they never actually knew they had polio until many years later when they experienced unexplained muscle weakness.
Others required immediate hospitalization and intensive care. This was the case with Harvey Bernard who spent considerable time in an iron lung. A metal box that aided respiration by fluctuating the internal air pressure. Once he was well enough to breath and sit up on his own he still required months of rehabilitative therapy.
Although sometimes scared and a little homesick, Bernard, remarkably, remembers the hospital time fondly.
"After therapy there was a lot of down time so we would get an adult to take us to the movie theater,” Harvey said. “In the summer they would push our wheelchairs but in the winter we had to take a cab. That was fun for us."
Things changed drastically for Harvey once he left the hospital and returned to the family farm. Each day his father and brothers would rise and leave for a day in the fields, and Harvey was left to spend the time in his wheelchair. With little use of his legs and one immobile arm, Harvey’s only past time was to draw. And did he draw; hour after hour he would draw the scenes of his childhood.
Victims of polio are said to be a courageous group. Much of this "can do" attitude was attributed to FDR’s own personal triumph over the disease. Although Harvey was stricken after the death of FDR some of the presidents words to polio survivors rang true with Harvey. FDR wrote in a letter to one polio victim, "You are making a brave fight for recovery and with this fine courage and determination you are bound to win." To another, "By patience and perseverance in carrying out your doctor’s instructions I am sure that you will in time win through to full recovery."
We know now that FDR’s own dependance on braces and a wheelchair was known only by those closest to him. But in 1946 the year after his death, FDR was highly regarded as a polio survivor who through hard work recovered completely and went on to do "great things."
This spirit of perseverance was what pushed Harvey Bernard through rehabilitation and helped him to walk again. He soon married and started his family. He worked on his fathers farm for a while then tried his luck at selling insurance, working at a chick hatchery and delivering papers. All the while continuing to draw. He enrolled in The Famous Artist Correspondence Course, which offered instruction from Norman Rockwell, John Whitcomb and others. He also learned the art of silk screening. In 1971 he began his career as an artist by entering one of his plaques in the Farm and Home Art Show. "I just blundered into it." remarks Harvey about those early days. "I went to the show with 14 plaques and sold them all. So I decided to make more."
Some of his first commercial costumers were Bob and Rhoda Jones of the True Value Hardware Spring Valley. Mrs. Jones remembers the day Harvey and his wife Doris drove up in their van and sold them their plaques. "I liked the art work for its detail," said Mrs. Jones. "We get customers from Wisconsin and Iowa who come in just to buy these pictures."
Recently a rumor was circulated that Harvey was going out of business. This may have started when he held an auction at the art gallery to sell off the wood working equipment.
"My son, who did the wood working decided to try something new (professionally) and so we prepared a large supply of plaques to last awhile and sold off the other equipment,” Harvey said. “We still have over 150 styles of pictures to choose from and a large stock available."
He would like to find a crafter or artist to share space and responsibility at the Country Art Gallery. Someone who would help out in return for a place to display their work.
"I’m looking forward to retiring and this could be a step in the right direction," Harvey explained.
But for now, Harvey is far from retiring, in fact he recently jumped into the 21st century with his own web page and e-mail address.
"We had a fellow from Japan order some prints by e-mail. That’s kind of exciting,” Harvey commented.
But to order by e-mail would be to miss the very best part of owning a Harvey Bernard print. It would be impossible to fully appreciate the work without meeting the man. This gentle man is a real treasure. His memories are of a day-gone-by, a simpler, happier, less stressful time. To walk into the old schoolhouse is like stepping into a time machine and traveling back to the horse and buggy days, when time was less important than friendship and honest conversation.
So when you visit the Country Art Gallery be sure to allow enough time to visit with Harvey. That’s when you’ll get the "big picture."
By Mary Jergenson