Thanks to Sid Van Ulm, my father was timidly open-minded about my being an artist. Growing up in southeast Houston during the Great Depression, it was my father's firm memory that his neighbor Sid Van Ulm, an artist and writer, had means and status when many other local men were unemployed and hopeless. Later my father worked for a short while as a reporter in Houston, and came to know his childhood hero as a professional associate. I believe that it was during this time that he begged off this wonderful watercolor from “Van.” He kept this sketch proudly among his things in his “cave,” and only years later did I learn the depth of the story behind it.
My assessment of the artwork now is that it is quite decent, as a quick newspaper illustration, and depicts something I have never seen illustrated anywhere else... the harvesting of wild Texas longhorns by Plains Indians. We know it happened, before and after the Reservation era, but Native Americans hunting buffalo has always been the image when considering their cultural hunting habits. Van Ulm offers in this watercolor an exciting and uniquely Texan moment which quietly fed my boyhood imagination... and my dad's positive disposition towards the arts.
But here is the rest of the story according to my father, author Ralph B. Cushman...
Sidney Van Ulm
by Ralph B. Cushman
Van was a family friend for us as long as I can remember. He was a lifelong friend and traveler with my uncle Palmer Woods. They migrated to Texas out of Boston shortly after WWI ended in 1919. Neither Van or Uncle Palmer were enthusiastic about a job which confined their roaming instincts.
Van Ulm earned a living writing copy for the Houston Press until it folded, doing mostly sports page reporting. Van's primary interests were golf and golfers. His buddy, Palmer Woods made a living for years hustling a golf game from persons bent on the same thing he was after... the other guy's money. For years it was Van's job to arrange matches for Palmer and tag along to keep tabs on the wagers, especially the money Palmer bet. Van usually picked up a buck or two when he helped to spot a “lame pigeon.”
Several years after Palmer took his own life, Van told me about his relationship with Palmer back in Boston. Van was taking art lessons and during his studies he came to a day when nude models were the subject of his painting. When he told uncle Palmer about the coming attraction, Palmer was suddenly stricken with an interest in art, and accompanied Van to art class. To keep from attracting undue attention staring at the nude, Palmer feigned reading a newspaper. There was a hole the size of a quarter cut out of the paper to afford him ample viewing. This was pretty much the extent of art education for his friend Palmer.Van, as Palmer's closest ally, knew most of the array of characters associated with this legendary golf hustler. From Bing Crosby, to M. E. Foster to Gen. Hap Arnold to Leo Corrigan, Van said that riding with Palmer Woods gave him an entree to a world he could never have found or afforded.
Van was quite an artist, and he also had quite a story!