A wagon, owned by Jesse and Nancy Farris-Thee, has served as a sign along Highway 160 for around 30 years. It is now one of a number of signs throughout the region carrying support for the Ukrainian people. (Photo by Kaitlyn McConnell)

ASH GROVE – The small, old-fashioned black wagon’s wheels aren’t rolling down any road, but it carries a message of support of the Ukrainian people to all who drive by.

A sign showing the word “Ukraine” above a sunflower — the country’s national flower — was painted by artist Nancy Farris-Thee. It was placed on the wagon near Ash Grove just a day ago, the newest in a number of signs of support for the Ukrainian people dotting the Ozarks.

On my way down the road, it caught my eye.

It wasn’t the first time. One set of my grandparents long-lived in Greenfield, and as a child I used the wagon as a landmark on the journey along Highway 160. Even more than three decades later, I still often look and smile as I travel past.

And while I recall seeing other messages over the years, I didn’t remember there being any tied to humanitarian or political causes.

Artist Nancy Farris-Thee confirms that is the case: Never before has the wagon carried such sentiments. Her husband, Jesse, built the wagon, and the couple placed it at the edge of their property around 30 years ago. Ever since it’s been used to advertise various causes they care about.

Nancy Farris-Thee, a historical costume designer and artist, is shown in 2018. (Photo by Kaitlyn McConnell)

“Initially, the sign on there was permanent — it was painted right on the wagon and was for historic Ash Grove,” says Nancy. “Then we had a whole scene painted with a rifleman, and it was a typically old-timey looking sign board for Nathan Boone Historic Site. Then it became really a sign board for the American Legion because we were very active then.

“We’ve always tried to make it useful. And when nothing in particular was going on, we would just take everything off and it would still say ‘Historic Ash Grove ahead.’”

Recently, they spent time discussing what to do next.

“We were trying to think of something that was really eye-catching and Americana,” she says. But given world events, their plans evolved.

“And then we just really wanted to do something for Ukraine,” says Nancy. “It’s a very small voice but maybe enough voices will help.”

Nancy is the painter of the sign, a demonstration of just one of her multiple artistic endeavors. A primary outlet is as a pattern designer for Butterick, and for which Ozarks Alive profiled her in 2018. Her historical costume designs range from centuries past to the Civil War and even into the first half of the 20th century.

That love of creation also translates to painting.

“I like to paint outside and I like to paint sceneries,” she says. “One summer, we would travel to various old mills, and I have a small collection of the mills that we traveled to. That was really fun. I like scenery, nature, and it’s just a fun outlet.”

Her work on the wagon has resulted in the display of two national flowers on its form. In addition to the sunflower shown in support of Ukraine, the back panel of the wagon shows a flower in honor of her husband, who is of Scottish descent — and one it’s safe to say many around here do not like.

“It’s the thistle,” she says, noting the side-eyed, prickly Ozarks plant is Scotland’s national flower. “It’s kind of a stylized picture of a thistle. But we’ve had people say, ‘That’s a thistle isn’t it?’ We have a very good friend that lives in the area and he’s been a farmer all of his life. He said, ‘You know, farmers are not going to like that.’ So one day my husband went up there to do some work, and we found an old sprayer. It’s just an old worn-out sprayer, but we knew exactly who put that there.”

With the panels noting one flower Ozarkers would like to stay away, and another that grows hope, so does the latter in Nancy’s heart.

“I don’t have any plans at all to rotate the sign,” says Nancy. “We will just wait and see and pray that they become a safe country again.

“It’s a small, small thing to do — but you know, it’s on our minds every day.”

Kaitlyn McConnell

Kaitlyn McConnell is the founder of Ozarks Alive, a cultural preservation project through which she has documented the region’s people, places and defining features since 2015. McConnell regularly shares her stories with readers of the Springfield Daily Citizen. Contact her at: kaitlyn@ozarksalive.com More by Kaitlyn McConnell