Senior Connections Senior Connections Feb 2019 - Page 10

Compelled to create Cokato man’s 100-year-old mother has had a lifelong zest for art BY STARRLA CRAY Associate Editor People in Cokato and Dassel probably know Mike Newsom as a husband, father, grandfather, and retired pastor – but they might be surprised to fi nd out that Newsom is also the son of a well-known artist. Back in the early 1960s, Mike’s mother, Eva New- som, created a theme park called Biblical Gardens. The attraction was located in Wisconsin Dells, and featured statues from 13 scenes in the life of Christ. “It was just the perfect setting,” Mike recalled. “It was down in a canyon, with layers of sandstone.” Although Biblical Gardens isn’t around anymore, memories of it are still vivid in the minds of peo- ple who visited. In a discussion on TripAdvisor.com about favorite “no longer there” Wisconsin Dells at- tractions, for instance, one person wrote “I always liked Biblical Gardens. It was a cool, shady oasis – a place to unwind and see the Bible come to ‘life.’” Mike was in high school when Biblical Gardens was created, and he remembers the “tremendous” ef- fort his mother put into it. “It was blood, sweat, and tears – literally. It was long, hard days,” he recalled. The fi rst fi gures were cast in concrete and weighed about 400 pounds. Later, Eva worked in fi berglass. Each colorful, life-sized statue helped to illustrate various Bible stories about Jesus. As visitors strolled through the picturesque garden, they’d start by seeing Jesus as a baby in the nativity and as a 12-year-old boy at the temple. Then, they’d move through to see Jesus’ baptism, blessing little children, calling the fi shermen, and being tempted in the wilderness. The next section of the park showed the sermon on the mount, the Last Supper, the betrayal, and the trial. The fi nal scenes featured Christ bearing the cross, the crucifi xion, the empty tomb, and the ascension. Art lessons Although Eva is most well known for her work with Biblical Gardens, her artistic talent extended far beyond sculptures. Eva was born a century ago, on March 17, 1918, as Eva Elaine Gragert. As a young child, she gravi- tated toward drawing, and used what she had – grey cardboard and a dull pencil – to create pictures. Sometimes she’d hide behind a bush, because she was embarrassed to be drawing in front of her many siblings. With 11 children in the Gragert family, money for things like art lessons was scarce. Eva’s father didn’t have time for art himself because he was busy with farmwork, but he saw potential in his young daugh- ter. He met an acclaimed artist named Marie Hull, who agreed to give Eva lessons in exchange for eggs and 10 Senior Eva Newsom (right) was a skilled sculpture artist who created Biblical Gardens in the Wisconsin Dells. SUBMITTED PHOTO butter. Eva’s father also helped pay for lessons by pos- ing for one of Hull’s paintings, titled “Sharecropper.” Hull’s art lessons were eye-opening for Eva, who was about 15 years old at the time. She told family members she felt like Helen Keller learning how to spell the word “water” for the fi rst time. “It opened her up in a way she never understood before,” Mike explained. Eva began painting all kinds of things, and she be- came quite good at it. By the 1930s, she was taking art lessons in New Orleans, and was working at the Louisiana State Ex- hibit Museum. There, she was part of a team that cre- ated 23 dioramas, which are still on display today. According to the museum’s website, Eva focused on the agricultural dioramas – “designing fi gures, paint- ing faces and clothing, and arranging the scenery.” Connections February 2019 For the past seven years, 100-year-old Eva Newsom has won the pumpkin-decorating contest at her assisted liv- ing facility. SUBMITTED PHOTO Senior Connections HJ.COM