Five Questions with Marianne Lisson Kuhn, tractor artist
By Jane Donahue For The Sun March 14, 2013 7:50PM
Marianne Lisson Kuhn, known for her Century Walk murals, is a tractor artist by trade. | Courtesy of Diane Scents
Updated: April 16, 2013 3:07PM
Many know Marianne Lisson Kuhn for her contributions to Naperville’s Century Walk collection, including four murals that grace downtown buildings. But to others, she’s known for preserving special memories and bringing them back to another era with a stroke of her pen.
She’s a tractor artist.
Since 1989, Lisson Kuhn has penned more than 80 different types of farm vehicles for people around the Midwest. It’s a genre of art she didn’t intentionally set out to pursue.
“When (my daughter) Carolyn was born, I wanted to stay home with her and do something on the side, so I started doing custom artwork and house portraits in pen and ink,” she said. “In the early ’80s was when Naperville really started to change and grow, and I wanted to preserve some of the history of the town. I started drawing some of the old things that were disappearing.”
Lisson Kuhn said when her dad passed away in 1989, she and her husband, Tom, inherited his 1951 John Deere B tractor. It was the perfect subject for the artist.
“I used to drive that tractor on my grandpa’s farm on Lisson Road in Naperville,” she said. “I spent a lot of time on that farm.”
The rest is history. Her husband took the drawing to a tractor club meeting, and requests started pouring in. She began researching tractors and attending tractor shows around the Midwest, taking pictures to capture intricate details. Custom orders followed, like one from Jeff Rott.
Rott, 57, said he commissioned Lisson Kuhn to capture his dad’s first tractor, a 1956 Allis Chalmers.
“The tractor meant a lot,” said Rott, whose family farmed in Naperville and in Magnolia, Ill. “When my kids were little, we would take them to the farm, and we’d ride around on that tractor. I wanted a picture of it the way it looked on that farm.”
Today, the drawing sits above his desk, he said, so he can see it every day.
“It brings back so many memories,” Rott said.
Her tractor art recently gained national attention when she was featured in Farm and Ranch Living magazine, but tractors are only one facet of her artistic abilities. She has a studio and gallery that is open to the public by appointment, and if you’ve ever seen her work, you’d agree she can draw anything.
To learn more, visit www.mariannelissonkuhn.com
1. What is the appeal in tractor art?
“It’s nostalgic. The tractors mean so much to them, whether it was the first thing they drove when they were 10, or because it brings back memories of their grandpa’s farm. It seems to be that there are good memories tied to it.”
2. How do you draw the tractors? Do you see them in person or is it from a picture?
“I do the drawings from photos. I have been to a lot of shows, and I take pictures of different tractors that I think are neat.”
3. How long does it take to draw a tractor ?
“Roughly 12 hours to do one, but you can’t do that intensive work all in one day. It really depends on what they want with it, like a farm scene behind it. Sometimes the trees can take longer than the farm scene.”
4. What has been a challenge about drawing them?
“I learned as I was making prints that some of them weren’t original or the way they came off the assembly line because they had been altered. These guys know every nut and bolt on the tractor, so if it wasn’t right, they would pick that up. I was just drawing them because I thought they were cool looking and then I started doing research to find out what was the correct way they were produced. I learned a lot about tractors through the process for sure.”
5. What is your favorite?
“I like older ones, like from the 1950s era or earlier, but my favorite is easy. It’s my dad’s John Deere B.”