Jennie Cell lived on a farm near Charleston, Illinois, with her uncle, Jerome McGahan, a carpenter and builder. Cell began painting in 1954 when she wanted a picture of a relative’s home but was unable to afford a camera. Instead, she used different colors of shoe polish to paint her recollection of the house. Her uncle encouraged her by buying oil paints and building frames for her paintings, and soon started to paint himself. They worked mainly during the snowed-in winter months on the farm, painting side by side next to a heater in their living room. Cell painted scenes of rural activities including quilting, soap making, and pruning.