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Bob Artley: A tribute to the past

by Leslie McManus

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Bob ArtleyThey say a picture tells a thousand words, and no one was a more gifted storyteller in that regard than cartoonist Bob Artley, who died Oct. 21, 2011 at 94. Since January 2004, Bob’s work has appeared in every issue of Farm Collector. His cartoons often entertained but they always educated in a way no amount of articles could. Focusing on rural life in the first half of the 1900s, Bob “told it like it was,” but with warmth, affection and a wry sense of humor. 

In a long and prolific career, Bob worked as an editorial cartoonist, commercial artist, author, illustrator and publisher. His work has been collected in several books, many of which remain in print. Once Upon a Farm, in which he explores farm life through the seasons, is my favorite. Each two-page spread of this oversized book contains an essay and a beautifully done full-page, full-color illustration complete with detailed notations. In more than 100 pages, Bob revisits everything from stationary gas engines to end-gate seeders, stacking corn fodder to silo filling, cream separators to corn shellers in a tone that blends first-hand knowledge with sweet nostalgia.

In the book’s forward, Paul Gruchow notes that “the world that Artley experienced as a boy – and about which he seems to have forgotten absolutely nothing – was one that was, even then, nearly at an end in the industrialized West. With its collapse came the demise of an agrarian culture that had been 10,000 years in the making, a culture that had given rise to the dominant religious traditions of the U.S. and to the political ideals upon which it was founded.”

Those are sobering words as we consider farm life in a new century. And yet through work like that done by Bob Artley, a cherished way of life remains alive. As the artist himself wrote in a caption accompanying an illustration of his home place from the front driveway, “Each person has his own perception of ‘going home.’ This one will always be mine. As long as I am able, Artley Farm will always be where I come home to.”

Through a unique arrangement with his family, Bob’s work will continue to appear in these pages. We’ll have the great honor of drawing from a stockpile of his work as we seek to preserve and celebrate the American agricultural tradition. And for Bob Artley, that’s a fitting tribute. FC 

Leslie McManus, Editor 

Bob Artley's spirit lives on thorugh his rural cartoons.