A Good Man

A Good Man
All images copyright by Martha Dillard. All rights reserved. Images may not be reproduced in any form without permission.

Martha Dillard

Twenty plus years ago, I fell into the world of Flannery O'Connor through a back door marked ART. What an amazing journey it has been - unlike any of the other art doors I have opened. My contributions to the O'Connor world are eleven paintings based on her short stories and cards using some of those images as well as a poster of "That Gentleman" for an O'Connor conference at Georgia College in 1994.

Recently two people contacted me within twenty-four hours to ask if I had any more cards. Those requests are the impetus to return to O'Connor world and to publish more cards and this blog. I will write about each of the paintings and share some of my experiences along the way. If you want to buy the notecards, click on any image and it will take you to my web page and an e-mail address for ordering.

What is your favorite story? How did you fall into O'Connor World?

--Martha Dillard


Amanda, you have my permission to use the image.  Martha Dillard

O'Connor's "A Good Man..." and "Greenleaf" in paint

A Good Man Is Hard to Find
The painting of “A Good Man Is Hard to Find”is the last painting I made. When reading Jean Cash’s biography Flannery O’Connor: A Life (p. 261), I discovered it was Flannery’s favorite story to read to audiences. In a letter to a friend she claimed "the story was the only one she could read 'without laughing'" and that it was the right length. I like to imagine her reading of it with that good Georgia drawl. And I can see why it would not cause her any mirth.

Of course, her words painted indelible images in my mind and the Georgia red clay back road begged to be the setting for a car full of people headed for disaster. The painting is redder and the sky more threatening than is shown in the photograph of the painting. While I’d love to get a truer image, for now I ask you to imagine it a bit bloodier.

That Gentleman
“That Gentleman” is the painting based on O’Connor’s “Greenleaf”. This story speaks even more to me now that I live on a farm in the middle of cow pastures. While the cows and their care belong to a neighboring dairy farmer, I have come to appreciate Mrs. May’s frustration. A few years back a huge, brown, rogue bull jumped fences to visit a number of farms in our valley. I heard him before I saw him. His deep breathing was loud and menacing and I kept inside until he went away.

To reflect the final scene in this story I added blood red to the bull’s eyes, ears and nose to make him seem more menacing. The surrounding frame shows how he was advancing through the shrubbery and it holds my favorite run-on sentence. It is written around the edge of the frame in silver and doesn’t show up in the small image.

“She had been conscious in her sleep of a steady rhythmic chewing as if something were eating one wall of the house. She had been aware that whatever it was had been eating as long as she had had the place and had eaten everything from the beginning of her fence line up to the house and now was eating the house and calmly with the same steady rhythm would continue through the house, eating her and the boys, and then on, eating everything but the Greenleafs, on and on, eating everything until nothing was left but the Greenleafs on a little island all their own in the middle of what had been her place.” (pp 311-2, Flannery O'Connor The Complete Stories)


O'Connor ART Door

For all of the 1970s and 80s, I painted abstracts and it was an abstract exhibit that I was signed up for in 1992. Not sure what I would say at the required artist lecture, I looked for a book to inspire me. T.S. Eliot's "Four Quartets" had been such a muse, but I was ready for something different. Time was running short and one night I told myself that the next morning I would sit in front of my bookshelf and there would be something useful. It was Flannery O'Connor the Complete Stories that backed its way off the shelf into my hands. 

A few years before, I had heard a sermon with a reference to O'Connor's story "Revelation" and discovered that Flannery was not a man! I bought the book of short stories, read the first one she wrote and put the book back on the shelf. On this fateful day, however, I opened the book in the middle and read the story of baptism and an image of a young preacher standing in a muddy Georgia river came to me immediately. I grabbed a tear out ad from a magazine and sketched it out. What excitement! I kept reading and sketching with her wonderful descriptions bringing images to me quickly. Then I started calling people who might know something about her. The first person I talked to was trying to finish a novel and had just taken a new job and said he didn't have time to talk with me on his precious Saturday morning. Thirty minutes later he said good-bye. He told me people either loved O'C or hated her and he obviously loved.

After painting five or six of these, I decided I should check with the art venue to see if it would be okay to exhibit the O'Connor work and not abstracts. It was not okay. By spring the abstract exhibit was over; I'd painted ten of O'Connor's stories and didn't know what to do with them. 

At a conference at Montreat NC that spring I met Murphy Davis of Atlanta. She told of going to Milledgeville every month to take family members to see their loved ones who were in the women's prison there. "Oh, Milledgeville - that's where Flannery O'Connor lived," I replied. Then I told her about my paintings; she asked me to send her some slides so she could show them to her friend, Mary Barbara Tate, who had known Flannery and had taught English at the college. Mary Barbara walked them across the street to the arts council office; the man there called me immediately and offered me an exhibit at the Milledgeville library the very next month. The O'Connor ART door was blown open.