Eda Johnson Horning (1918-1963) painted a pastel portrait of a Navajo elder.
Eda Johnson Horning (1918-1963) painted a pastel portrait of a Navajo elder.
“I paint for me,” says DeVoy Munk, 88. Every room of her Lovelock home is full of artwork, mostly her own. “I don’t care if I sell my stuff. If you want one, I’ll give it to you.”

During quarantine, Munk kept herself occupied.

“I like to be busy,” she says.

Earlier, old farm equipment at the Double Rose Ranch caught Munk’s eye. 

Back home, she blocked out the outside world, dabbing her brush in the water and hoping to produce something that made her proud.

Working from a photograph, she painted a wooden cart with three eccentric hoops jutting from its body.

“I can’t tell you what that cart was used for with those three hoops,” she said. “It’s a mystery to me.”

Watercolor is notorious as a frustrating and often unpredictable medium. It’s Munk’s favorite.

Gradually the wagon took shape on her canvas. The Humboldt Mountains loomed in the background. She drove out to the ranch to make sure she got it right.

Munk is drawn to landscapes, finding inspiration in the Nevada byways. If she passes a friend on foot, she stops and offers them a ride. Meanwhile, she keeps her eyes open to life’s possibilities.

“There were at least 200, maybe 300, pelicans down on the river the other day,” she says.

Munk’s guests always gravitate to a pastel in the corner of her living room.

“I’m a good painter but not a great painter,” says Munk, gesturing towards the portrait of a Navajo woman. The artist was Munk’s Aunt Eda. “Aunt Eda was a great painter.”

The model’s brown eyes speak volumes, but her identity is unknown. She’s an elder, with a blanket draped over her right shoulder. 

She wears turquoise around her neck, waist, wrists and the fingers of each hand. Her gaze is direct and forthright. 

A Navajo artist, Lajasta Wauneka of Gallup, New Mexico, offered some insights about the painting.

“To me, she seems like an educator. She’s intelligent looking and probably well known in her community,” she said. “The blanket looks like a chief’s blanket, which would be given to leaders. The artist captured her integrity.”

Due to Munk’s labors as the family historian, more is known about the artist than the model.

Eda Idell Johnson Horning (1918-1963) came into the world in Flowell, Utah. She was the fifth of nine Depression-era farm children, one brother and seven sisters. At 16, Eda caught scarlet fever. 

“She couldn’t work like the rest of the family, so she painted,” said Munk. “She was self-taught.”

The year Eda got sick,1934, scarlet fever reached epidemic proportions. It spared Eda’s life but weakened the valves of her heart. Still, her sense of adventure survived.

In the spring of 1939, at 21, she felt restless. She was ready to leave Flowell and dive into the next phase of her life.

“It seemed like I was going no place fast,” she wrote in a family history, later compiled by Munk. 

Eda packed her belongings and moved to Winnemucca to live with her sister. They waitressed at Humboldt House for $18 a week plus tips. 

Eda met Vernon Horning (1916-1943) at a Saint Patrick’s Day dance. The couple married and raised two sons – Robert and Richard.

“They lived in Lovelock for several years while Vernon worked for the telephone company,” says Munk.

In 1954, at 36, Eda Horning became gravely ill. Her heart valves could no longer function. They were ready to quit.

Instead, Eda had open-heart surgery. She was one of the first adult patients to undergo the procedure. Eda recovered well enough to study art at Sacramento State College. 

In 1958, the Horning family moved to Reno. One day, the Navajo woman sat for a portrait. 

Eda would not live long enough to become an elder. In 1963, her heart failed again. She had a second open-heart surgery at Stanford University Medical Center in Palo Alto, Calif. 

Eda’s doctor, the world-renowned cardiologist Dr. Norman Shumway, did all he could, but Eda died under his care at the age of 44.

DeVoy and Donald Munk (1927-1991), a farmer, married in 1950 and raised four daughters  — Dana, Dawn, Debra and Darlene.

“I started painting after my youngest child graduated from high school,” said Munk. “I was an empty-nester.”

I’d always wanted to teach school, so I went back and got my substitute teaching certificate.”

“I needed college credits, so I took the only class offered here, an art class.”

Munk substituted for the first through fourth grades for 20 years. Art became a significant part of her life.

“Like I say, I sold a few, but it changed the whole way I painted. I could paint just as well, but I wasn’t enjoying it as much,” said Munk. “I found myself thinking, ‘Maybe they’ll buy it if I add some purple.’ Now I paint for me.”