Landscapes

Max was born Roger Alden Benson in Albert Lea, Minnesota in 1928 (He changed his name to Max Yoder in 1986). He made the Murmansk Run to Russia twice by the time he was 17 and fought in the Pacific during World War II. After the war, Max lived in different parts of the country, including Washington DC, Virginia and California, and traveled extensively. He was a citizen of the world.

However, in his heart, Max loved Ohio the most. Our first visit to Kidron, Ohio in 1983 cemented that tie. Not only did the Amish speak German, which was practically Max’s native tongue, but they made great old-fashioned jokes. The kind Max loved. The rolling hills and beautiful scenery of Holmes County captivated him.

We bought an old house in Dalton, Ohio and settled down to enjoy the countryside and the people. Max painted constantly, using our tiny parlor as his studio. He painted with his nose right up against his large canvasses. He stopped infrequently to step back and scrutinize his work. The canvasses were made by his Amish friends, and they are very stout.

Max was a natural born linguist. By the time he was six he was speaking fluent German. He picked it up easily from a German born Aunt.

We were married in 1981, and by then he had earned a PhD in Linguistics from UCLA and could speak Bulgarian, French and Norwegian. German remained his favorite and preferred foreign language. Yet Max’s most dominant language was really the linguistics of painting — the expression of his inner eye. He approached painting as any language — with precision, discipline and enthusiasm.

One definition of language in the American Heritage Dictionary is “any method of communicating ideas, as by a system of signs, symbols or gestures”. Max’s system of communicating through painting involved a clearly defined set of elements which consisted of Value, Hue, Chroma, Composition, Medium and Light. He methodically combined these elements to form a painting.

Each painting started with a stretched canvas prepared with liquid gesso. This was followed by a rough sketch in charcoal on the canvas — charcoal because it was easy to modify. Underpainting was next. Here, Max defined large, general areas of the painting, alternating between warm and cool colors. By doing this, he created the rhythm of the painting and began to give it life. Finally, he put in the “dots” which was a modeling process. Low value cool dots in the background balanced high chroma dots in the foreground to define sunlight. This was when the painting began to “dance” — I loved watching that part of his art.

But Max was a linguist through and through, and a wonderful dancer I might add! His paintings sing and jump and cavort around. Max’s paintings live because he was so good at controlling the elements used to create them. He used his medium meticulously to create the perfect balance between light and dark, warm and cool. He showed us what his inner eye saw when he viewed the world. Because he used these elements so skillfully, Max lives on in his paintings. He always said that he painted for the “glory and honor of God”, and I believe he achieved that goal.

In closing, I would like to mention that Max felt very strongly that Max Heemgmacht Yoder was his favorite painter. Heemgmacht (which he adopted as his painting name) means “Homemade”. Max spoke many languages but in the end he was most fluent in painting — his most creative language.

Written in 2013 by Malinda Yoder, Max’ wife