November 01, 2003

Some books on hay.

Asson, David A. Bringing in the hay: a nostalgic history of agriculture's most romantic crop. Beaverton, OR: Doubletree Advantage Corp., 2003.

Asson coverWhen our friend Sherril Sharf recently came back from Montana and mentioned that she'd found a new book on haymaking, I doubted that it could either add much to what I already knew or make redundant the hay book that this web site is gradually assembling. To my mixed delight and chagrin, David Asson's book does a bit of both. On several aspects of traditional haying in the American west, it is unrivalled in its detailed technical data and wealth of illustration. While not pretending to be scholarly, it is packed with original research, notably on the variety, complexity and geographic distribution of vernacular hay-elevators. While a few cultural geographers (e.g., Rick Francaviglia's “Western Hay Derricks: Cultural Geography and Folklore as Revealed by Vanishing Agricultural Technology,” Journal of Popular Culture 1978 11(4): 916-927), have done some cursory research on this topic, nobody I know has travelled so far, or talked to so many ranchers, or gathered so many images, or tabulated his discoveries so systematically, or written on our topic with such uninhibited enthusiasm, as has David Asson. On the book's 124 pages are almost 250 illustrations, virtually none of which are in my own database of over 2700. This lack of overlap is disconcerting, since, in other recently discovered sources, I had begun to find, at last, more frequent duplication. I wish that the author were as consistent in his captions and attribution as he is, for example, in his meticulous maps and directions to surviving artifacts. Although he sprinkles the text with the work of painters and poets, Asson's approach and focus challenges the uniqueness of my own interests far less than do such art historians as the late Kristian Sotriffer and Christiana Payne (see below). His short bibliography is also both useful and unnerving in its innocence of most of the sources I've found to be invaluable. Since he helpfully provided his email -- I can't wait to learn more about his idiosyncratic methodology, which is evidently as eccentric as my own!

Brueghel, Pieter, the Elder. Hay-making. Introduction by Jaromir Sip, translated by Till Gottheiner. London: Spring Books, 1960.

This books has a 24 page essay illustrated by 24 details of Brueghel's masterpiece. Those seeking a detailed description of sixteenth century hay-making will be disappointed, but others will enjoy Sip's expansive essay which provides a broad historical context for the painting and describes some of its complexity. Especially useful is the analysis of the composition and the constituent scenes which it contains. Three of the details, each an exquisitely composed piece by itself, are shown below.

Bruegel. Haymaking detail. 1565.Bruegel. Haymaking detail. 1565.Bruegel. Haymaking detail. 1565.

Images from this book are in our database: ID 2012-2016, and other images of the painting are in ID 33-35.

Harper, Douglas. Changing works: visions of a lost agriculture. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2001.

Harper is a sociologist, but this book is far more than a conventional rural sociology on changing ways of life in the dairy country of upstate New York. Harper uses the voices of the farmers themselves to tell the story of economic and technological change. Only one chapter specifically concerns hay --‘Making hay’ pp. 85-111 -- but the whole book is an invaluable context to our topic. The book’s illustrations from the archives of the Standard Oil of New Jersey documentary photography project, less well known than the work of the FSA but involving many of the same photographers, are especially useful. Garrison Keillor’s blurb is justified: ‘This good book opens a door on a proud and private and admirable people, the dairy farmers, and a gentle way of life now disappearing.’

Harper cover, photograph by Sol Libsohn, 1945.Harper, p.97, photograph by Sol Libsohn, 1945.

Other images from this book are in our database: ID 1437-1444, ID 1450, ID 1454, ID 1469, ID 1473]

thehaymakers.gifHoffbeck, Steven. The haymakers: a chronicle of five farm families. St. Paul, MN: Minnesota Historical Society Press, 2000.

Hoffbeck tells the enthralling story of five Minnesotan farm families, using changing methods of haymaking over the past hundred-and-fifty years as the focus of a much broader cultural experience. It is also a very personal story: Hoffbeck’s father and brother were both killed in farm accidents, and so the Hoffbeck farm and the family’s way of life were victims of unusual tragedy and not just of the transforming influences of economics and technology.

title-pages from Hoffbeck.Man, scythe and haycock, from Hoffbeck, p. 28.

Other illustrations from this book may be found in our database, ID 1371-1379.

makinghaybook.gifanother cover of the same editionKlinkenborg, Verlyn. Making hay. New York: Vintage, 1987.

If John McPhee wrote a book on hay, it might rival but would not excel Klinkenborg’s. Short, fast, funny, but factual, Making hay combines first-rate, first-person narrative, set in the Midwest and the Big Hole Valley of southwestern Montana, with succinct ancient agricultural history, tracing alfalfa back to its roots, so to speak, ten millennia ago. 'As the grass fell neatly behind, the mowers earned the mysterious satisfaction that comes from cutting grass, something even shirtless suburban boys feel tackling a neglected lawn. It is like polarizing the graminous creation: the cut reduces stray reflections off supple blades to consistency, and the crewcut stiffness of newmown grass refracts a darker green.’

Das Erbe der Bergler coverLangjahr, Erich. Das Erbe er Bergler [Alpine saga].. Langjahr Film GmbH, 2006.

This is a DVD and not literally a book. Furthermore, this documentary film on arduous, traditional hay-making high in the Swiss Alps has almost no words. Nevertheless, it belongs in any hay bibliography because of its vivid depictions of mowing with scythes on the steepest slopes, collecting and compacting the hay in large nets, hauling and attaching the bundles to a metal cable, down which the bales slide at apparently dangerous speeds thousands of feet to winter storage barns, and finally lifting the bundles up into the barn lofts, where they mature until they are transported down to the animals on beautiful hand-made sleds. Whole families are involved in the construction of the tools and harvesting the fodder. The 97 minute film shows the importance of haymaking in the Alpine culture and economy and the skill and strength needed to sustain this way of life. It was kindly sent to me by the Afflerbacher/Blickle family who live in southern Germany, across the Bodensee from Switzerland, in rolling hill country more suited to modern hay production than are the landscapes shown in the movie.

Wim's 2008 book coverLanphen, Wim et al. Hooibergen in nederland: Geschiedenis en behoud van een agrarisch cultuurmonument.. Ijsselacademie, 2008.

The definitive book on the traditional haysheds of the Netherlands was sent to me in the summer of 2008 by one of its authors, our friend Wim Lanphen. While my slim knowledge of Dutch puts the text (by Wim and his colleagues, Suzan Jurgens and Marten Jansen) beyond my understanding, the splendid photography (by Wim, Henk Frons and Maja de Zwaan are both descriptive and beautiful. While I was familiar with this magnificent expression of vernacular architecture both from Wim's web-site and my own travels in Maramures, Romania, I was astonished by the range of surviving structures in the Netherlands and especially by the meticulously thatched roofs which appear to be still in pristine condition.

Wim's 2007 book coverLanphen, Wim. Een Oost-Nederlandse hooiberg bouwen.. Hattem, NL: Stichting Kennisbehoud Hooibergen Nederland, 2007.

Wim's earlier book, while less comprehensive, is equally attractive and thoroughly documents the construction of a traditional barn by a contemporary craftsman, Willem Ruhof. By the efforts of such craftsmen, and of Wim and the SKHN, this magnificent expression of Dutch folk architecture is being revived and preserved, even as the homogenization and industrialization of rural technology threatens to sweep it away.

Haying with horses dust jacketMiller, Lynn R. Haying with horses. Sisters, OR: Small Farmer’s Journal, 2000.

Lynn Miller writes about horse-farming the way Stewart Brand and his staff used to write about all manner of energy-efficient tools, with the authority that comes from repeated, thoughtful use, the enthusiasm that comes from strong convictions, and an economical style that comes from a genuine talent for technical description. Haying with horses was written more for the practicing hay farmer than for the mere enthusiast, but it is loaded with reliable historical fact and dense with useful illustrations: photographs, old and contemporary, and line drawings culled from old machinery catalogs. Scholars would have appreciated more specific source information, and the long, technical bibliography of sales catalogs and other documents hardly hints at the difficulty of obtaining them. But the eighteen, well-researched, entertainingly written chapters, dense with practical advice and lively anecdote more than justify the price of a new copy ($32.95). Miller’s astonishing productivity as farmer, writer and editor excuses his occasional amusing tendency to moralize: e.g., in his “equipment roundup” he advocates a four tine fork: “the two tine fork is primarily a grain bundle fork (or a lazy hay farmer’s fork.)” And how can we resist the following audacious similes? “The putting up of cured forage can also be akin to a culinary art, to exterior decorating, to landscape sculpting, to process poetry, if the ingredients are understood and worthless notions of efficiency are thrown out.”

Toil and Plenty dust jacket. 15th cent ms.Payne, Christiana. Toil and plenty: images of the agricultural landscape in England, 1780-1890. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1993.

Payne’s is that most satisfying kind of art history, reflecting several kinds of knowledge: mastery of the facts of British agriculture during a century of dramatic change; and understanding of the myth and ideology which inspired several generations of artists to filter those facts into the landscape styles and genres of the period. The exhibition for which this book served as a brilliant catalogue, yields dozens of fine hay paintings to our own virtual collection. Payne notes that ‘wheat harvesting was easily the most popular agricultural subject for artists’ of the period, but haymaking was also a very common theme, ‘often treated by artists in a light-hearted way, with much emphasis on the elegance of the female haymakers.’

David Cox. Haymaking.  Payne, plate 26.Sir George Clausen. The Mowers.  Payne, plate 22.

Hay images from Payne’s book in our database include: ID 91, ID 136, ID 376, ID 384, ID 388, ID 390, ID 391, ID 394-403, ID 417, ID 453, ID 1316.

British Landscape Painting: half-title page.Rosenthal, Michael. British landscape painting. Oxford: Phaidon, 1982.

Rosenthal's ambitious survey of 750 years of British landscape painting pays close attention to changing conditions of agriculture and is particularly helpful to those of us interested in haymaking. While inevitably less focussed than Christina Payne's monograph on the nineteenth century, Rosenthal's book includes some wonderful images from preceding and later periods. Two examples, one from the eighteenth and one from the twentieth century, illustrate his style and insight. An epic, panoramic view of haymaking in the Cotswolds early in the eighteenth century depicts a large field occupied by a cast of dozens of tiny figures, no fewer than 23 of whom are mowing parallel swathes just left of center. 'We are shown grass being mown and tedded, in corners of the field tiny figures repose, and at the bottom right, a line of Morris men leave a field, their dance imitated by the lines of mowers and rakers. This painting then describes haymaking and is besides a valuable record both of the way it took place and of the rituals involved.' [Rosenthal, p. 26]. Rosenthal relates this work to Thomson's poem 'Summer' , (1727), and its description of how the village 'swarms ... o'er the jovial mead.' Nash, in Rosenthal's analysis, 'has portrayed the lines of drying hay, the walls of the park, and its trees, the swell and slope of the landscape…There is a strong feeling of this landscape having been deserted; the farmer now visits and exploits it rather than working in it. The imagery of completed haymaking is one which has been illustrated several times through this book. Usually there is celebration and crowding -- recall the lines of mowers and rakers in the Dixton haymaking [ID 2454]. With Nash there is no longer any festive jollity. The pragmatic appoach means that once the hay is dry enough it will be baled and carted off, and the lack of figures is a way of pointing up the peculiar quality of this modern development of a time-honoured motif.'

Dixton Manor haymaking. 1710-20. Rosenthal, p.29.John Nash. Park scene, Great Glenham. Rosenthal, p. 172.

Hay images from Rosenthal’s book in our database include: ID 77, ID 78, ID 87, ID 92, ID 384, ID 921, ID 2452-2465, ID 2470.

Heu und Stroh dust jacket. 15th cent ms.Sotriffer, Kristian. Heu & Stroh: ein beitrag zur Kultur- und Kunstgeschichte. Linz: Veritas-Verlag, 1990.

Discovered in February, 2004, after I had written several essays and loaded over 1500 images into our database, this monograph by an eminent Austrian art historian is a tantalizing revelation. Sotriffer surveys both the art that hay and straw have inspired, as landscape forms and material media, and the artifacts in the agricultural landscape, especially the haying landscape of the meadows of the Austrian Tyrol, but also ranging southwest into Tuscany and southeast into Slovenia. The photographs alone offer an astonishing typology of haystack shapes; the captions and essays that accompany them seem to be erudite explanations of morphological variation. The shift from the phrase ‘Hay in art’ to the sentence ‘Hay is art’ is brilliantly illustrated here, and, in our own work, we shall struggle to amplify both messages.

Haymaking fresco, c. 1400. Sotriffer, p. 28.Car in bale, 1989 advertisement. Sotriffer, p.128.

Other images from Sotriffer's book in the database include ID 1594-1610.

Ipswich Marshes on Stebbins' title pageStebbins, Theodore E. Jr. The life and work of Martin Johnson Heade: a critical analysis and catalogue raisonne. New Haven: Yale University Press, 2000.

Why should the definitive scholarly monograph on a single artist, better known for his tropical landscapes and orchids, be included in a short, highly selective bibliography on hay? Because Stebbins gathered almost all of Heade’s 120 hay images into one convenient publications and helped popularize this theme so effectively that a bad example of Heade's marsh hay paintings recently sold for more than a million dollars.

Great Swamp, Stebbins, p. 120All of them, we hope, are in our database: ID 169-287, and ID 454; and the million dollar marsh painting, not in Stebbins because it was discovered since the book was published, is ID 581. Many of them are also included with commentary in our essay Heade’s Hay.

 The scythe book
Tresemer, David. The scythe book. Second edition. Chambersburg, PA: Alan C. Hood, 2001.
Cover drawing; Tara Devereux. Hayinart database ID 2823.
Tresemer's book is the definitive compendium of everything associated with the traditional hay mower's primary tool. It is full of practical advice on the scythe's selection, use and maintenance. It is equally rich in the scythe's lore, literature and symbolism. Hay-cutting is one of the three principal applications of this ancient blade (the others are harvesting small grains and the more mundane clearing of weeds), but it occupies the longest and most loving chapters in the book, in which the versatilty and other virtues of traditional methods are thoroughly extolled. For example, the scythe can be used when the hay is most full of nutrition but the ground is too wet for mechanized mowers and along the edges of fields which machines can not reach. In our own essay on Maramures hay, we showed a further instance of this advantage: scythes reaching under the branches of laden plum-trees to work around the trunk. The original illustrations, by Tara Devereux, are descriptively textured line drawings. Less effective are the handful of muddily reproduced paintings, including harvest scenes (NOT haymaking!) by Brueghel, Benton and Bernard, and Francis Alexander's Wheelock Farm.

Yale cover.Yale, Allen R, Jr. While the sun shines: making hay in Vermont, 1789-1990. Montpelier, Vermont: Vermont Historical Society, 1991.

Yale captures two centuries of changing hay technology in New England, from scythe to silage. He is particuarly helpful in identifying salient phases stemming from industrial change: 'in metallurgy, the development of mechanical power, the mass manufacture of iron implements, and the introduction of the tractor.' The concluding sentence predicts a shrinking future for traditional hay: ‘While the harvesting of grass forage will continue to be important to Vermont dairy farmers, the harvesting of grass in its dry form, as hay, appears to be on the decline.’

FB 977. Hay caps, 1922.United States Department of Agriculture. Farmers' Bulletin Series.

Washington: Government Printing Office.

Not really a book, but an invaluable series of pamphlets for historians of hay making, especially in North America. Among those of particular interest are the following, tracked down on Ebay by Emily Reich:

502. Evans, M. W. Timothy production on irrigated land in the northwestern states. 1912.

693. Piper, Charles V. and McKee, Roland. Bur Clover. 1915.

838. Yerkes, Arnold P. and McClure, H. B. Harvesting hay with a sweep-rake: a means by which eastern hay-growers may save labor. 1917.

865. Fortier, Samuel. Irrigation of alfalfa. Issued 1909, rev. 1925.

FB 1476. Johnson grass, 1926.977. McClure, H. B. Hay caps. Issued 1918, repr. 1922.

990. Evans, Morgan W. Timothy. Issued 1918, rev. 1923.

1009. McClure, H. B. Hay stackers: how they may be used in the east and south to save labor. 1919.

1148. Morse, W. J. Cowpeas: culture and varieties. Issued 1920, rev. 1924.

1250. Piper, C. V. Green manuring. 1925.

1339. Pieters, A. J. Red-clover culture. 1926. supersedes FB 455, Red clover.

1476. Vinall, H. N. Johnson grass: its production for hay and pasturage. 1926.

Hay and Forage Journal.

This journal includes news on hay production and prices and even has occasional articles on the broader cultural aspects of hay. See, for example, the piece by Fae Holin (August, 1998) "Celebrating hay" which describes an art festival in and around Shelburne, Vermont using hay as material and motif.

Posted by Alan Ritch at November 1, 2003 06:04 PM