Walking the pictures

A home gallery tour

by Ken Rummer

Fox Lake by unknown artist. Photo by K. Rummer

“Sweet Georgia Brown.” That was the tune I hummed as I carried my crib-aged children around the house in the middle of the night.  

It would be a night when we had tried diaper and milk and pacifier and rocking chair, and still there was no going back to sleep. Bright eyes peeking over my shoulder, I would set off on a walk-about to the Harlem Globetrotters’ theme song.

We visited the pictures on the wall and I served as docent for the tour. With a nod to the hour and the attention span of my audience, I kept my remarks brief. “See the trees? Olive trees with blue trunks. Vincent Van Gogh painted those trees. And over here. Someone helping the hurt man up on the horse . It’s The Good Samaritan. He painted that picture, too.”

We visited the works on display one by one, trying to lose the fussies and find the sleepies. Sometimes it worked.

I made these walks with each of my children, and now I’m taking grandchildren on similar tours. “Sun Records studio, right there. And notes of music on the wall. And that’s you when you were very small.”

The art changes depending on the house, but the pattern repeats, as liturgically fixed as the Stations of the Cross. “Rooms by the Sea. Edward Hopper painted that. And Salvador Dali did this one, a woman looking into a strange sort of mirror. And there are your parents on their wedding day, with bubbles blowing all around.”

When they come to our house, we check out the sailboat and the lighthouse, the big mountain, and the mirror. We look for the white horse in Grant Wood’s Stone City, and touch the stitching in a needlepoint angel my mother did. We also check out the photo gallery. “Those are your great-grandparents. And your cousins. And that’s you.”

Over the years I’ve noticed there’s more going on than just getting sleepy. There’s also the closeness, cheek to chin. Small people seem to like that. Big people, too. And there’s the looking together, noticing things, paying attention. And there are introductions being made. First takes on what is beautiful. Maybe even a start on what is true and what is right. 

It turns out that walking the pictures, and telling the stories that go with them, is a work of some significance.

When I was very small, strong enough to hold my head up, but still light enough to be lifted, my grandfather on my mother’s side carried me around his house to see the pictures on the walls.

One was an oil painting of a lake at sunset, with the yellows and oranges of the sky reflected in the water. It portrayed a place near where they used to live in Indiana, the lake where my mother, then a young school girl, caught her first fish. 

That picture now hangs on my wall, and it’s on the tour.

Ken Rummer writes about life and faith from the middle of Iowa by the High Trestle trail. Previous posts can be found at