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Of the several fine photographs on rural Alabama in the archives of Auburn University, none illustrates better than this one the peculiar application of old but elaborate technology and plentiful cheap labor to the process of making hay. A mule-powered buck-rake pushes hay towards a bale-press, loaded and operated by five African American workers. What drives the press is invisible, off-stage left. It could be a steam engine, more mules, or even more men. Dwarfed by the operation which helps maintain her privileges, a small girl in a sunbonnet poses just left of center.
This scene in the Matanuska Valley, near Palmer, advertising the Rose Ridge bed and breakfast inn, nicely balances the sublime (Alaska's challenging wildness) and the picturesque (a comfortable summer hayfield which could be in almost any of the 48 contiguous states). Competing for the role of quintessential Alaskan image are the more than twenty haymaking photographs in the superbly indexed Alaska’s Digital Archive , many of them showing the astonishingly productive crops when the Matanuska region was first settled in the early years of the twentieth century.
Russell Lee was employed by the Farm Security Administration (FSA) to document agricultural conditions, problems and progress during the Great Depression and its aftermath. He travelled throughout the southern and western states and was particularly active in Arizona, where irrigation and harvesting progress had been particularly encouraging. This combined hay picker-upper and chopper was developed by members of the Casa Grande Valley Farms, Pinal County, Arizona, with the aid of Mr. Walton, FSA (Farm Security Administration) regional farm supervisor. After hay was chopped, it was loaded into a truck by the side of the chopper and then taken to the feed barns. Alfalfa, depending on irrigation water pumped from increasingly deep wells continues to be a major product of Arizona's rural economy. Government intervention and cooperative conservation are less evident than they were in Lee's time.
Russell Lee also documented the Lake Dick reclamation project in Arkansas, which produced vast quantities of soybean hay and several images for our database. But the scene selected is a painting from the decade before the Depression by Olin Herman Travis showing an Ozark forest scene interrupted by two cultural elements: a farmhouse and a conical haystack. The painting hangs in the Ogden Museum of Southern Art in New Orleans, part of a major collection of art and life in the South.
California hay is richly reflected in our collection, both in paintings (by William Hahn of the 19th century, Xavier Martinez, George Bellows, Phil Paradise, Charles Payzant, Wayne Thiebaud and several others) and photography ( Carleton Watkins, Edward Weston, Ansel Adams, William Garnett). Many others by less well known artists are equally hard to resist, including several illustrating my own county of Santa Cruz, and paintings of haymaking in Santa Clara county when it was still rural, and a mural in the (where else?) Hayward post office. I also considered my own HAYNRT license-plate, overlaying a Thiebaud design or one of the dozens of photographs I’ve taken in many parts of the state over the past few decades. More perverse candidates were a series of scenes of hay being used to soak up the oil on the Santa Barbara beaches in 1969.
Finally, I settled on two images, both reflecting agriculture in the San Joaquin Valley, both photographs but both made painterly in their reproduction or composition. The first is an intriguing postcard celebrating the gigantic productivity of the golden state. The enormous haystack is allegedly built from the seventh crop of the season near Fresno. It was mailed in Reedley in October 1907 inscribed with an intimate message which provides human counterpoint to the 25 foot high stack. The second is an aerial photograph which recalls the landscape abstractions of the Bay Area expressionist Richard Diebenkorn. The photographer, Charles Benton, a professor in the College of Environmental Design at UC Berkeley, uses KAP (Kite Aerial Photography) to discover unusual angles on the landscape. While literally a view from above of growing corn and stacked square bales near Farmington in the Central Valley, it epitomizes for me our state’s penchant for eccentric innovation and the ability to find beauty in the mundane geometry of modern agribusiness.
Most of Russell Lee’s documentary photographs for the FSA, including his impressive series on Colorado hay in 1940, were in black and white. This color image of a grand haystack and ladder and row of 1930s automobiles is exceptional. The color is brilliantly preserved, a durable contribution to the American Memory collection at the Library of Congress. Michael Lewis and Dean Conger also did fine color hay scenes in the sixties and nineties, especially of feeding cattle in the Colorado winter snow, but this unlikely car-park landscape is irresistible.
The rural scenery of Connecticut attracted the attention of many of the artists associated with the neighboring Hudson River Valley, and in the following century haymaking gradually declined as an important element in the landscape of that state. Forests invaded the former fields of the hilly areas and dormitory suburbs have occupied many of the coastal marshes. So, in our Connecticut hay collection, nineteenth century paintings outnumber twentieth century photographs and give us many fine images from which to choose: a naïve farm-scene by Francis Alexander, the sentimental Currier-and-Ives pastoralism of George Durrie, and the Luminism of Martin Johnson Heade, imitated less successfully by his contemporary Benjamin Coe. Equally tempting was a fine engraving from the 1930s of barns and a haystack by Thomas Nason. But since Barbara Novak selected this work by Frederick Church, also titled “Haying near New Haven” to illustrate her distinction between nature and culture, we must follow her lead and borrow her language: the haymakers “(set apart formally and symbolically by planar distinctions) maintain a distance from nature: this allows for a more purposeful activity within nature, diminishing transcendental unities in favor of what we might call a middle phase of reconciliation between man and nature.” [Nature and culture: American landscape and painting 1825-18-75. NY: Oxford University Press, 1980. p. 190.]
From the small state of Delaware, we have found only a couple of hay pictures, neither of them adequate to represent its admittedly less than dramatic scenery. One by Kevin Fleming, of an Amish woman operating a horse-rake, would be more characteristic of Pennsylvania. This one by Jon Cox shows a collection of expensive modern machinery creating and collecting bales and could have been taken in any highly capitalized agricultural landscape. But its interest lies in the context. It was used as a prominent illustration on the Delaware’s Agricultural Leadership Program website, focused on the following concerns: “the public image of agriculture; future loss of farmland; the impact of regulations on the future viability of agriculture; and the farming abilities of future generations.” All of these concerns are likely to pit traditional methods against mechanization.
Virtually no contemporary scenes of haymaking in Florida having been discovered, we are left with this fascinating engraving from the 1870s of a farmyard in St. Augustine. The complacent dog is given more prominence than any other element, but the haystack shows much of interest: a central stake, a tattered cloth cap, and edges which seemed to have been whittled down to feed the animals.
More famous for his nudes and equally nude-like still-lives and landscapes of the West, Edward Weston toured the South in 1941 and documented the rural landscapes crisply but without his usual flare for semi-abstraction. This straightforward view of the William H. Hunter farm, near Athens is notable in our context for the cluster of haystacks among the farm buildings.
All four of our Hawaiian hay images document the use of pili grass (Heteropogon contortus) to control erosion on the semi-arid island of Kahoolawe. Also known as spear or tanglehead grass, this tufted perennia has stems up to 120 cm high and long awns that are twisted together when mature. It is widely distributed and abundant in areas with less than 800 mm of annual rainfall and highly resistant to grass fires. It grows quickly and is valuable as fodder or hay until awns form, as these can injure the mouths and skin of stock. Good hay can be made if the grass is cut before it flowers. Here the bales are shown perpendicular to the drainage channels, encouraging growth to stabilize the vulnerable soil.
Look elsewhere for the many images which epitomize haymaking in Idaho, past and present. This one is also used to exemplify the difficult issue of artistic property. During the past few years the New York sculptor, Tom Otterness, who specializes in public artworks, has installed his giant "Makin' Hay" series, constructed of steel and cylindrical bales, in several scenic western hayfields. The first of these was made in Utica, Montana, home of the annual "What the hay" festival. Many photographers and tourists, passing Tom's installations, have captured them on film. Occasionally, as in this fine winter photograph by Otto Kitsinger, the secondary work does justice to and even amplifies the original. I, exploiting in turn the ultimately public nature of internet art, have expropriated the image to represent the state of Idaho and the complicated state of contemporary creativity. But anyone who has exerted just enough pressure on a camera button to expose film or digital card for a few hundredths of a second to create an image of windrow or stack or bale has appropriated the art of the haymaker.
Another Russell Lee photograph from the 1940s is entitled simply “Illinois” and therefore justifies its selection as the representative hay image of that state. It recalls Charles Sheeler's precisionist portrait of a white barn whose geometry is offset by the texture of the foreground hay. Lee's photograph has more hay, posing in a ramshackle wagon with metal wheels that captures both a place and a time of dearth-driven improvization. The diagonal shadow of the ladder, absent from Sheeler complicates the Lee aesthetic.
Half of the eight images discovered for Indiana are from WPA murals decorating public buildings and implying the importance of hay in the local economy. The one shown, by Marguerite Zorach, is in downtown Monticello. Although the background is mysterious (water-body? lake-shore?), the main elements include many of the most common conventions of the art of haymaking: a woman with a large rake; a muscular fellow turing the hay with a fork; another vigorously tossing hay onto a loaded, horse-drawn wagon; and a child resting in the hay-pile at right. Beyond in the distance is a field of haycocks. Anomalously, in the right foreground is a pen full of pigs.
Orland is a small but once-prosperous agricultural town in the rice-farming section of the Sacramento Valley in northern California. On Main Street is a cavernous coffee-shop, mostly for locals but occasionally discovered by travelers who stray from Interstate 5 on their way to or from Oregon. When I first saw this print on the coffee-shop wall, I assumed that it represented old California haymaking. But closer inspection showed the signature of Felix Summers, and a bit of research determined that he was a painter of the Iowa not western rural landscape. Some of the Iowa photographs of Arthur Rothstein in our collection depict very similar barns and hay hoists, as do the paintings of Franklin Halverson from the same state. I could have selected any of the three hay-related paintings of the more famous Grant Wood or photographs by Rothstein or Lange, but I like the serendipity of finding a bit of Iowan hay in Orland, CA.
This detail of John Steuart Curry’s Line Storm, the frantic passage of a mule-drawn hay wagon across a violent Kansas landscape, appears on the cover of Patricia Junker’s 1998 monograph John Steuart Curry: Inventing the Middle West. In Henry Adams' essay “Space, Weather, Myth, and Abstraction in the Art of John Steuart Curry,” (Junker, pp. 112-132), he calls this work “among the oddest paintings in American art, a piece that violates nearly every rule in of traditional composition.” Further “Curry seems to have been torn between producing a conventional landscape painting, filled with hackneyed motifs, and making something more mysterious and abstract.” But our site is a celebration of “hackneyed motifs,” and since the painting does depict a real place (the Heart Ranch in Barber County in the western part of the state, it demands to be used as the Kansas image, especially since the phrase “Inventing the Middle West” beautifully expresses our own interest in agricultural myth and the phenomenology of place.
Apart from Marion Post Wolcott's FSA photographs from the 1940s, there are surprisingly few images of Kentucky haymaking, given the continuing need in this quintessential horse-raising state for good quality fodder. I decided to use this contemporary scene of rolling hay country, from an unusually well illustrated real estate website advertising farms for sale in Bluegrass Country. Many of the other photographs on this site feature hayfields to promote the bucolic nature of this region which is claimed to be “one of the prettiest places on earth” (presumably until it’s sold.).
In another product of Edward Weston’s 1941 foray into the South (see also Georgia, above) hay spills out of the windows of a classical southern plantation building, a fine example of the pretentious adapted to the service of the humble. The other choices were a couple of mundane Marion Post Wolcott photographs and an anomalous Altoon Sultan painting of Baton Rouge hay bales. These bales are beautiful but more characteristic of her native Vermont.
Oxen appear in several Maine haymaking images, including some by the famous documentary photographer Lewis Hine. But few captions to these pictures are as precise and pedagogically useful as the one accompanying an anonymous mowing scene from 1911 on the Maine Preservation website . While intended as a study guide for school-children, it perfectly elucidates for adults the time, place and activity. “From 1829 to 1860 more progress was made in the development of labor-saving devices for the farmer than in all of previous history. One of the most appreciated by Maine farmers was the invention of the mowing machine. It was a long time before these became commonplace on Maine's farms, but by the early 1880s most farmers had put down their scythes and were using mowing machines. You'll realize how welcome the mowing machine was if you imagine yourself standing in the middle of a big field, with the sun beating down on you, a big, heavy scythe in your hand, and tall grass all around you as far as you can see. In this photo, taken August 14, 1911, the mowing machine is being pulled by a team of young Holstein oxen. They are mowing ‘swale hay’ on soft ground. Oxen are better than horses for this kind of job. Horses tend to crowd and lunge on soft ground. Oxen move more slowly. Another reason for using oxen in boggy places is the shape of their hooves. Have you ever seen a cow's and a horse's hoofprints? Oxen, like cows, moose and deer, have ‘cloven,’ or split hooves, so they create less suction than a horse's hoof does when it is pulled out of the muddy earth. Even oxen sometimes had to wear strapped-on wooden mud shoes - rather like snowshoes - on very soft ground. If you look really close, you can see wire baskets over the oxen's noses. These are supposed to help the oxen stay focused on their work.”
Neither a craftily composed hay barn interior by Jack Delano nor a portrait of a truculent Whitaker Chambers toting a bale of hay has a significant view of the countryside, although both were taken in Maryland. However Paul Souders’ photograph of Antietam National Battlefield shows a field of healing hay growing over the “Bloody Cornfield” where more than 23,000 Confederate and Union soldiers were killed, wounded or missing as a result of the battle. Without this buried information, the gently rolling landscape of farms and fields and silos is as peaceful as it may have been before Robert E. Lee and his army invaded the area in September, 1862.
About half of our Massachusetts hay collection is the work of a single artist. But he, Heade, deserves and has already been the subject of a separate essay. More than a dozen more images come from Heade’s followers and imitators, or other lovers of the salt marsh hay, including our hay mate John Hutchinson who also has his own section on our site. The marsh hay prints of Arthur Wesley Dow are particularly tempting, but we’ve turned from them to the dynamic regionalism of Thomas Hart Benton and a painting of haymaking on Martha’s Vineyard near Chilmark. While the scenery here is specifically recognizable to the islanders, those less familiar with the place have no sense that this is an island scene. But the spire, the farmstead, the stone-walls, the small fields, interspersed with the woodland that increasingly invades them are quintessentially New England; and the small, almost melting, haycocks, the wagon drawn by a drooping horse, and the vigorous farmer with fork, are all familiar parts of Benton’s rural vocabulary.
Corbis has over 100 photographs by David Turnley documenting the lives of Flander and Anna Hamlin on their subsistence farm, near Detroit. In 1979 Flander was 80, Anna 78 and they had been married for 55 years. A few of the photographs document their semi-mechanized haying operation: tractor-run mower and small wagon; and both loose hay and square bales. Here, Flander forks hay onto a small cart, pulled by a tractor which still has the mower attached to it. A quarter-century later, with the passing of families like the Hamlins, subsistence farms are even less typical in the Michigander landscape.
Thanks to the well-indexed, excellent collection of the Minnesota Historical Society, more than a century of haymaking in that state is very well represented by over a century of images, more than a dozen of them by Harry Darius Ayer who documented the farm country about a hundred years ago. One of the earliest images, from about 1880, photographer unknown, is shown here. It illustrates the rich productivity of the prairie hayfields, the enormity of the haystacks and the engineering ingenuity of the Minnesotan haymakers. David Assen, rancher turned accountant turned hay historian, would categorize this contraption as a “double-A-frame-hoist-with-portable-boom.” There are also many fine illustrations in Steven Hoffbeck)’s elegaic account of haymaking on his family’s southwest Minnesota farm, before first his father, then his brother Larry were killed in agricultural accidents that ended the Hoffbecks’ tenure and their farming tradition.
The American Memory project of the Library of Congress includes a fine collection of photographs by Marion Wolcott Post, depicting poor Southern farmers in 1939, and the positive effect of New Deal programs. One series focuses on the old Marcella Plantation in the Mississippi Delta, where African Americans added cheap labor to such antiquated machinery as the fixed baler shown here. A more recent image ( Robin Nelson, 2004), not shown here documents the continued plight of black farmers in Mississippi who “expected to benefit from the landmark 1999 class-action settlement with the United States Department of Agriculture, which acknowledged decades of ‘indifference and blatant discrimination’ against blacks in the department's lending programs. When the settlement was approved, it was hailed as the biggest civil rights award in United States history, estimating that $2 billion would be paid out to black farmers. Thousands of claims have been denied for a many reasons: tight deadlines, late submissions, lawyers' mishandling and most significantly the resistance of the Agriculture Department. Critics say the department used technicalities to deny farmers a hard-won remedy.” [Corbis]
Among the handful of images of Missouri hay, half (ID 3531-3534) comprise a series illustrating the use of an old baler to make small round bales at the Herbal Maid Fiber Farm, Rosebud, MO. The small bales are easy to use in feeding the farms flock of rare goats and sheep. Just as this specialized breeding represents entrepreneurial agriculture in the face of economic challenges, the improvisational technology is equally ingenious. But the selected image, “No more mowing” by John deMartelly, is another product of New Deal art projects, regional in its background, sexy in its central image, and contributing to the old genre of models reclining langorously in the hay.
With over 170 hay images from which to choose, including products of my annual drives to visit a relative-owned ranch, playful hay sculptures from the nearby " What the Hay Festival,” and historic and contemporary pictures of the “ Land of Ten Thousand Haystacks” in the Big Hole beneath the Bitterroots, Montana seems to be the Big-Hay-Under-The-Big-Sky State. Among the several Montana painters who have incorporated the hay theme into their work, reflecting both its importance in the local economy and its commercial appeal to outsiders, few are as witty as the Missoula artist, Monte Dolack. Several of his posters for an annual music festival include surreal adaptations of hay landscapes. The image I’ve chosen is even more playful. Monte told us that he once planned to turn this concept into a monumental project, Egyptian-scale pyramids made of rectilinear bales. This digital reproduction of a postcard hardly does justice to that ambition but, with the complacent foreground bovines remind us that unlike the ancient desert mausoleums, these pyramids are useful and ephemeral. And Monte’s title “Points of interest” perfectly conforms to the theme of this gazetteer.