"Portrait of Jonas Gumbleby, Pigpiper"

Tommy "Culture" Colter

Another of Tommy Colter's sensitive recordings of life in and around Redbone, Arkansas. Tommy had a particular fascination with swine, as revealed in paintings such as "Harris Tuttle Contemplating the Basque Hog, Homer" elsewhere in this collection.


The story behind this painting, according to Lenore Gumbleby, great-granddaughter of Jonas and presently Redbone's assistant research librarian, is that Tommy Colter was on his way to the skinny-dipping pond with his friend Harris one summer's day when they heard a bizarre but musical sound coming from the dilapidated shanty of Jonas "Downwind" Gumbleby, Redbone's honorary swineherd. Curious, they investigated, and found Jonas engaged in perfecting his latest invention, the pigpipes. 


Unlike bagpipes, which involve the skin of a deceased goat stitched up and vulcanized to hold the air, pigpipes make use of the living animal, which allows a wider range of sound than is usually achieved by bagpipes' three-toned scale, and has the added advantage that, with proper training, the pig can squeal in counterpoint to the tune played on the "chanter," or detuned flute which is traditionally duct-taped to the main gasbag of the instrument.


Colter was so impressed by Gumbleby's invention, and by the quality of light filtering through the pigsty, that he immediately dropped his natatorial plans and, with the help of fellow-artist Harris Tuttle, ran home for his canvas and paints and brushes, and in the twinkling of an eye captured the moment for posterity, although he later confessed to being less than satisfied with his rendition of the hog, for, as he said in his autobiography, "Th' light was failin' fast and I was mostly out of that there umber-like color whut I used for fillin' in the shadders with." 


The finished painting hung unnoticed in Silas Agglespratz's manure shed until it was rediscovered during Redbone's annual "Let's Sell Old Farm Junk to the Tourists" festival. The town custodians kicked in $3.97 to secure the high bid at the auction, and since then this important memento of bygone days has hung in the foyer of the new sewage treatment plant.


Lenore Gumbleby relates with no little pride that the invention of pigpipes made great-grandpa Jonas briefly popular. His downfall came in 1879, not long after this painting was completed, when he attempted to hit E over high C at the Shriner's Ball and burst the hog asunder, which led to a charge of felony animal mistreatment plus corpse abuse, since he insisted on finishing his solo in "Oh! Dem Golden Slippers" in spite of the carnage.

 

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