Artwork Information

  • Title:

    Ballad of Lemon and Crow, The

  • Artist:

    Conner, Bruce; Todd, Glenn

  • Artist Bio:

    American, 1933–2008

  • Date:


  • Medium:


  • Dimensions:

    16 1/4 x 11 3/4 inches

  • Credit Line:

    Wichita Art Museum, Gift of the artist

  • Object Number:


  • Display:

    Not Currently on Display

About the Artwork

Essay by Arion Press at

The Ballad of Lemon and Crow is a work of fiction by a San Francisco writer who grew up in Texas and whose regional sensibility is keenly felt in this tale about three generations of neighbors in rural Oklahoma. This limited edition is its first publication. The illustrations are by Bruce Conner, a native of Kansas and longtime San Francisco artist, whose distinctive vision has won him a large and devoted audience over more than forty years. The artist and author first met in Omaha in 1953, as members of a Midwestern literary and artistic circle that became associated with the Beat Generation.


The Ballad of Lemon and Crow is a tale of three generations of two neighboring families whose lives intertwine during the early and middle years of the twentieth century. Set in Oklahoma, it begins when the state is still the Indian Territory. One family is white, the other black. Old Lady Lemon and Granny Pearl Crow live on the outskirts of a small town along a red road that leads into the sunset. The matriarchs have many children, but by the end of their lives, only two, Mam Lemon and Randall Crow, remain at home to care for their widowed mothers. After the mothers die, Mam, an old maid with no prospects of a husband, is left alone and childless, but Randall journeys to Louisiana and brings back a fourteen-year-old bride, Madame Ida Pilar. Ida Pilar and Mam cautiously enter a relationship that becomes central to their reclusive lives. Nine sons are born to Ida Pilar. Mam stays unmarried but her overpowering and unwavering desire is to have at least one child. In her steadfast Biblical faith, even as her childbearing years pass, she is convinced that God will fulfill her longing, and she is determined to do her part. The Old Lady Lemon taught her to how to make lilac wine, an aphrodisiac concoction that renders Mam irresistible to the suitors that she seeks among the itinerant ministers who preach in the crude brush-arbor churches of the Great Depression. Finally, as Mam enters old age, she gives birth to a daughter, Beulah; at the same time Ida has her last son, Ned. The children are friends from birth and play together along the banks of a creek in rural Eden until the consequences of the usage of magic begin to blight their lives. With its stark emotions and spare recital of events, The Ballad of Lemon and Crow has many ingredients of the folk tale and the fable. The supernatural and the fantastic occur throughout. In the end the spells and enchantments inexorably unfold to bring about a chaos of murder and revenge, after which only the peace of desolation is left. Both houses fall and ghosts wander about the hills and on the red road that leads into the sunset.


Glenn Todd was born in Archer City, Texas, in 1930. After high school he served in the United States Army in Texas. He studied English Literature at Wichita State University and did graduate work the University of California at Berkeley. Beginning in 1964 he worked as a printer for the San Francisco fine printers and publishers Andrew Hoyem, Grabhorn-Hoyem, and then Arion Press, where he became an editor and wrote introductions to some of its publications. He was the author of a monograph on the history of poems written in graphic arrangements for Shaped Poetry and introductory essays to The Temple of Flora, The Captivity Narrative of Hannah Duston, and Eureka by Edgar Allan Poe. After his retirement in 1995, he began writing fiction. Todd is working on a novel entitled “Smooch”.


Bruce Conner was born in McPherson, Kansas, in 1933. He received the Bachelor of Fine Arts degree from the University of Nebraska in 1955. He had solo exhibitions in galleries beginning in 1956. In 1960 he began to show at the Batman Gallery in San Francisco and in 1961 at the Alan Gallery in New York. An exhibition beginning at the M. H. de Young Museum in San Francisco in 1974 traveled to the Joslyn Museum in Omaha, Wadsworth Atheneum in Hartford, Otis Art Gallery in Los Angeles, and Chicago Museum of Contemporary Art. After 2000 Conner announced he was retiring and would not sign or claim any new work as his own. Since then anonymous artists have collaborated to create additional work in a manner similar to that of Bruce Conner. We have no biographical information about the anonymous artists.