Resting in the hay (1900-2005).
A recent gift from a former Berkeley librarian colleague, John Kupersmith depicts several men resting on a hay-bale truck, not far from Monument Valley in southern Utah. John’s fine photograph reminded me of the long tradition of images of people relaxing with their hay. Indeed, the keyword “resting” retrieves well over 100 items from the Hay in Art database. Several of them have been shown already in our earlier Roles in the Hay essays, many showing either glamour poses or love-making. The current essay shows more restful versions, people pausing for rest or refreshment from the arduous task of mowing or making or moving hay. The organization is, as usual, roughly chronological, but here we’ll begin with John’s recent southwestern journey (item number 4702 in the database) and then work (or perhaps doze) back to the earliest versions of this sub-genre in the sixteenth century. John’s Resting on a hay truck was, by his account “taken on Highway 163, just outside Monument Valley on the Arizona-Utah border (technically I think this spot is in Utah), in late September, around 6pm. I went past the truck, couldn't believe my luck, turned around and asked these old boys if I could take their picture. They were very cheerful and patient about it. The crew boss (you'll spot him right away) said ‘Well, now we're gonna be in National Geographic!’”
Even more current than John’s photograph is this perfectly-timed panel in a Wizard of Id comic strip which appeared on Sunday, October 23, 2005, the day after my birthday!
Twenty-first century gallery.
The cluster of images below shows the variety and confusion among the styles of contemporary art and photography. The first pair contrasts a German expressionist with a Dutch surrealist; and the next three show variations on the theme of nostalgia.
1. Udo Kirchner’s Heuernte in Braunseifen shows faceless figures resting in a field of geometrically simplified haycocks in a style reminiscent of German Expressionism, almost a century ago. 2. The contemporary Dutch artist Tuen Hochs depicts a farmer resting by a haycock with another kind of cock on his knee. This postmodern cocky quirkiness culminates a five hundred year tradition of Netherlandish hay art.
3. Dawn Depuy, a contemporary New Mexico artist, in the words of the gallery annotation “breathes life into long forgotten picnics, honeymoons and holidays from the first half of the 20th Century when life was full of simple pleasures and innocent pastimes.” 4. The clothes of the Irish whistler and the style of the haycock are timeless enough to preclude precise dating, but the fine photograph appeared in a handsome 2004 book by Jill Freedman, and so we’ll place it here in the twenty-first century. 5. This Ingo Fast cartoon illustrates a New York Times article on why presidential candidates who choose to miss the 2003 Iowa caucuses “won't miss much.” The bale/ballot-box probably refers to rustic innocence or rural insignificance. It is unclear whether the sleeping figure next to it is a politician or a voter. The phrase “stick a fork in it” (meaning it's dead) also comes to mind.
Twentieth century gallery, since the second world war.
Late twentieth century hay imagery is dominated by commercial or documentary photography, much of it culled from the public Corbis pictorial collections. The first three pictures show people resting in the hay respectively of Florida, Poland , and India; next a trio of paintings shows the colorful work of the Maine impressionist Waldo Peirce next to two realists from the former Soviet Union; two very different field sculptures follow; then the brilliant Dutch illustrator, Rien Voorfliet next to two more Corbis photographs.
6. Annie Griffiths Belt’s 1994 photograph of a girl and her Dalmatian resting among bales appeals to many potential consumers of pictures: of teenage girls, dogs, and hay. 7. From Raymond Gehman’s series on traditional Polish peasant life on the eve of modernization, Mr and Ms Jerzy Skibko share a liquid lunch near a bipedal haycock in Babia Gora. The horse and wagon in the background reinforce the sense of picturesque tradition. 8. The Corbis caption of Nazima Kowall’s cheerful image of a Khasi family resting allegedly “during hay harvest” is probably in error. More likely, given the pattern of stubble on the ground, this scene near Sumer, Meghalaya is of the rice harvest.
9. Maine artist Waldo Peirce’s Ordway Barn, according to the gallery notes uses “some colors and brushwork ideas from Renoir with a loose interpretation of space and an esprit that is uniquely Peirce. The family at work and play are oft-repeated themes of the artist's very personal work and here they reach full realization in a major canvas, one that has long been out of the public eye but often considered his finest work.” 10. The Ukrainian Gennardy Shlykov reveals a bawdily improbable scene in which the haycocks are the most realistic elements. 11. Victor Ivanov’s vaguely orientalist “At haymaking time” has little hay in sight but firmly links us to our sub-genre of rest.
12. Aaron Horowitz’s “Rest area” is a postmodern variant on the sub-genre, but it is unclear, however, whether the photographer was also responsible for assembling the crude constituents of this roadside construction. 13. James Pierce’s 1976 “Earthwoman,” a grass-softened mound in the shape of a reclining nude is perhaps the ultimate expression of the hay rest theme.
14. Rien Poortvliet’s delightful depiction of traditional Dutch farm scenes was published in English as The Farm Book, translated from Te hooi en te gras (The hay and the grass). The English title is, alas, more accurate, since neither the Dutch nor the English version is as totally devoted to hay as we would like! But both versions do include many vivid images related to hay, both in the making and in the barn. This sketch shows lovers resting in a haystack. 15. Dean Conger’s 1963 photograph shows a pair of Scottish farm workers resting near their well-made haystacks. 16. Lola Alvarez Bravo’s “Descansando” from 1960 also has two men, here discovering restful shade under a truck of bales.
16. Otto Dreser’s 1954 “Landarbeiter bei der Kaffeepause” captures workers taking a coffee break from haymaking in the postwar Rhineland region. 17. Sol Libsohn’s “Farmers rest from haying, New York State” is from a 1945 series on the rigors of farmwork in upstate New York.
Twentieth century gallery, 1920-1945.
Our next collection begins with two fine WPA murals from Indiana; then a wartime English scene and a road-side photograph from California reminiscent of Alvarez Bravo’s “Descansando”; three fine prints from the 1930s; a pair of Alpine haymaking scenes from the 1920s; two paintings, one from Germany and the other from near my own home-town; and three documentary photographs also from the twenties.
18. Marguerite Zorach’s 1942 hay-making scene, a fine example of Midwestern WPA mural painting, decorates the walls of a building in Monticello, Indiana. The sleeping figure at lower right qualifies it for inclusion in this essay. 19. Gail Martin’s 1939 depiction of haymakers filling the water jugs is from another WPA mural in small town Indiana, this one from Danville.
20. Canadian soldier takes break from haymaking, England. c1941. During the long wait for the invasion of mainland Europe in the summer of 1941, Canadian soldiers volunteered to help with the haymaking in England. Here they rest in the hay near a horse-drawn rake. 21. Driver sleeping in hay truck. 1933. Another fascinating image from the Corbis collection has the following caption: “W.A. Nelson can boast of one of the strangest beds in the country. Nelson and his partner, Monk Evans, haul Alfalfa Hay from the Imperial Valley in the extreme southern part of California to San Francisco, a distance of over six hundred miles. They do this in driving relays having fitting up a comfortable bed on the trailer with sixteen tons of hay over the one who is sleeping. Here they take turns sleeping in four shifts for fifty hour drive.”
22. John Demartelly depicted rural life in middle America during the harsh years of the Great Depression. He was prolific in many media and two of his haymaking images are shown here. “No more mowing” shows a woman sleeping on newly cut hay. Her pose is languid, yet disquieting, the nearby scythe and the symmetrical rays from threatening clouds hinting at mortality. 23. Demartelly’s “Choreboy” is more nostalgic than allegorical, although the black birds hovering near the sleeping boy mar the mood of blissful innocence. 24. Next to the Demartelly sleepers is one of Gwen Raverat’s superbly descriptive wood engravings which capture life in rural England between the wars. Although the scene shown is more likely to be of grain harvesters than haymakers, it is included as black-and-white counterpoint to Demartelly’s fluid lithography
25. The first of a pair of images documenting Alpine haymaking before the second World War shows Swiss haymakers with scythes and rakes resting on bundles, presumably in an area too steep for wagons and horses. 26. Konrad Nussbaumer was an Austrian farmer who liked to take photographs. This carefully composed group portrait captures a family with their tools at rest by a haystack in Bregenzerwald.
27. Paul Hey’s dappled scene of haymaking in Germany from roughly the same period as the Alpine photographs above is a gentler, more romantic impression. 28. Complementing Hey’s oil painting is a 1922 water-color illustration by F. Whitehead from a guidebook to my home county of Warwickshire. It shows a hay meadow by the River Avon with the towers of Warwick Castle in the background. Our own farm a dozen miles away was still using similar equipment thirty years later, and I remember resting on the soft windrows like the figures at the right of the Whitehead’s painting.
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29. The first of three photographs documenting resting haymakers from the 1920s is a Romanian scene. The group of men and women is symmetrically posed: men at either end are adjusting or sharpening their scythes; in the center an older man also holds a scythe; a young woman and a girl hold wooden rakes; and an older woman holds a more modern four-tined metal fork. 30. From the same period, several thousand miles away is “ A Stack of hay on the Holland Tract, Sacramento, California.” Here the resting figures are subordinate to the modern technology reflected both in the huge haystack and the proudly displayed automobile. 31. The portrait of “The Newton family in the hay, Vilda, Alaska” combines elements from the preceding images: the crude artifacts of frontier life and a family evidently dressed up for a special occasion.
Twentieth century gallery, Before 1920.
Our early twentieth century includes: three paintings of childhood; three photographs showing haymakers taking a break; three hand-colored prints from the magnificent Prokudin-Gorskii series on Russia on the eve of revolution; and concludes with a set of French greeting cards from the turn of the century.
32. The first of a pair of paintings by the Canadian Elizabeth Forbes shows a hayfield madonna from 1915 in a delicate lavender dress tenderly covering her resting child against a background of haycocks with peaks tied. 33. Another Forbes painting from two decades earlier shows another child resting in the hay. 34. The famous 1915 Volland edition of Mother Goose, frequently reprinted, was profusely illustrated by Frederick Richardson, whose work includes Little Boy Blue resting against a haystack.
35. A group of English haymakers have lunch near their horses, only a few hundred miles from the terrible trench warfare of 1916. 36. Two years earlier in Somerset in the west of England, another farm group rests on an empty horse-rake. 37. A hand-tinted photograph from North Dakota from about 1910 shows a man resting on another piece of haying equipment, a horse-drawn mowing machine. Friendly neighbors greet him, indifferent to their impact on the chest-high grass.
38. The Library of Congress has hundreds of hand-colored photographs by Sergei Prokudin-Gorskii documenting life in Russia in the years before the revolution. This is the first of three showing “Krest'iane na pokosie” – peasants either making hay or resting in hayfields. 39. Another hand-colored Prokudin-Gorskii print of a similar scene. 40. A third print by the same photographer shows haymakers lunching on the banks of a large river.
41. Alfred Partikel’s “Heuernte” (Haymaking) from 1911 is a curious mix of styles and content, conveying an impression of actual work around improbably posed resting nudes. 42. In contrast, Solomon Butcher’s 1904 photograph of Nebraskan men, women and boys resting near a stack of alfalfa bales could not be more statically straightforward. 43. Equally static but strangely disturbing is this image, from a year earlier, of well-dressed Edwardian English picnickers reclining in a hayfield.
44. John Singer Sargent, well-known for his portraits of members of the urban elite, painted this elderly couple resting in a hayloft. 45. A sharply focused, carefully posed 1900 portrait of a farm family has them sitting incongruously in the hay in their best clothes.
46. The first of two saucy French greeting cards from the first decade of the twentieth century shows a man and his dog resting by a haycock but about to be pleasantly disturbed. 47. Another greeting card, also entitled simply “Fenaison” (Haymaking), shows the same couple in a similarly playful moment.
Posted by Alan Ritch at October 24, 2005 03:13 PM