In both art and literature, hay is associated most commonly with high summer, the season of its production, but its primary importance is surely experienced in winter, the season when animals are most heavily dependent on it for their survival. Hay stores and conveys the growth of summer and the energy of long days and the high sun from one solstice to another. Haystacks, burrowed into, were the thatched cottages of the rural homeless, of dogs and cats, and the rodents on which they preyed. Hay made the beds both of vagrants and the the legendary bairn of Bethlehem.
And winter hay attracted at least a few painters for its vivid golden hint of June among the black and white austerity of dark December. Several Impressionists tried to capture the elusive 'effets de neige' the flickering reflective effects of snow on winter landscapes, both urban and rural. Monet's famous meule series, (grainstacks, alas, not hay, and consequently disqualified from this essay) contrasted the warm complex color of the straw with the equally complicated reflectivity of the surrounding snow.
This more homely Camille Pissarro painting (Farm at Montfoucault, snow effect. 1876) shows a farmer, followed by a sheep, carrying a bundle of hay into a snow-covered farmyard. Austere whites dominate the composition, but there is warmth in the stone walls of the farm buildings, in the sheep's fleece, and especially in the hay.
This essay, one of several at our hayinart.org web-site, brings together a few other works of hay in winter to celebrate the winter solstice and to send season's greetings to our friends.
Sir George Clausen's rustic naturalism illustrated here in a another work in the Tate Gallery, painted twenty years after Fisher's, shows pre-impressionist French influences, such rural realists as Lhermitte and Millet. Although chronologically belonging to the early twentieth century, this painting of a farmworker digging up a frost-bound garden allotment evokes the style and sensibility from a much earlier era. While Fisher's trees are sharply angular and calligraphic, Clausen's background elms and oaks recede into the cold mist of ann unmistakably English winter horizon. Even the warmly painted central haystack is edged in hoar-frost.
The 1880s landscapes of George Inness are far from his earlier Hudson River School style. Many of them are at once gloomy and glamorous, influenced, according to the scholars, by the painter's interest in the work of the Swedish scientist-turned-mystic, Swedenborg. This dark powerful work, with heavy shadows across the sky and much of the foreground, has at its center, a winter haystack, half-cut, capped by snow, and lit by a low sun. The brooding clouds threaten overhead, but the face of the stack, bisected by a ladder and its faint shadow, evokes comparison with the famous Fox Talbot photograph made at Laycock, England, some forty years earlier.
Two paintings, two decades and worlds of style and taste apart, show respectively Paul Salisbury's literal account of feeding stock in the snow in Utah, and Joe Allen's abstract composition which includes signs of haystack shapes and areas of white which might be snow. This juxtaposition of nostalgic, regional realism and decorative modernism, shows the range of artistic purposes to which winter hay can be put.
The above gallery of winter hay paintings illustrate a wide range of places and styles. At top left is an 1855 oil painting by the French American artist, Hippolyte Sebron, of New York's Broadway on an icy day. The horse-drawn sleds at the center of the frame, below the focal, distant spire of Trinity Church, are loaded with hay, either for the warmth of the passengers or to fuel the draft-animals that were the primary motive power of the mid-nineteenth century city. A detailed description of the buildings in the painting is provided by the Museum of the City of New York which owns it. Below the Sebron is Rene Billotte's late nineteenth century (?) image of bleak suburban street scene. The high load of hay heading into Paris provides the only warm color in a composition dominated by greys and whites. At lower left is another urban landscape, from early twentieth century Canada, Franklin Brownell's draft horses steaming in the snow of an Ottawa market to which they have dragged sleds of hay. The delicate image at upper right is from the same period and is also the work of a Canadian, David Milne, but his haystack in snow so deep it almost buries the foreground fence, reflects the serene isolation of a frontier farm in winter. The two other paintings on the right both focus on the work required to deliver fodder to ranch animals in the mountain west during the cold season: Robert Duncan's hay sled dragged by four big horses, flanked by collies and trailed by hungry Herefords; and a recent water color sketch by Patty Fox, Elko, Nevada, of winter feeding from a horse-drawn wagon in a roadless snow-field.
The two other lithographs shown below also celebrate New England husbandry. The one at lower left shows a barn so full of hay that additional stacks, each mantled in snow, have been built outside. A similar message is evident in the other image. Both include cattle standing in the snow, one nibbling at the edge of a stack, to remind us of the purpose of our theme.
May your metaphorical barn have enough metaphorical hay to nourish you and yours through every metaphorical winter. And if your world is web-mobile, please keep visiting our home of hay at www.hayinart.org -- hay, it's the fodder of all web-sites.
As our snow-less California coastal winter has wetly yielded to a snow-blossom spring, several more cold season hay pictures have been added to the database. Here are more than two dozen additional images. Go to the database for information about them, including their sources.
Photos from the '40s: 1. John Vachon, South Dakota, 1948 (ID 1453); 2. Sol Libsohn, New York State, 1947 (ID 1450).
Hay sleds of US and Russia: 3. Michael Lewis, Colorado, 1993 (ID 1803); 4. Dean Conger, Russia, c 1975 (ID 1662).
James Ravilious, Devon hay, dogs and snow, 1978: 5. (ID 1674); 6. (ID 1676).
Winter twilights: 7. James Ravilious, 1978 (ID 1675); 8. Kathleen McLaughlin, Shepherd, Romania, 2000 (ID 2131).
Hans Kleiber's Wyoming winters: 9. (ID 1169); 10. (ID 1170).
19th century Slavic sleds with hay beds: 11. T. Axentowicz, Carpathian mountaineer's funeral, 1882 (ID 1592);
12. Vasilii Surokov, Boyarynia Morosova, 1887 (ID 1593).
17th century Dutch oil, early 20th century German oil and late 20th century Russian movie still: 13. Hendryk Avercamp, 1608 (ID 1196);
14. Gabriel Munter, Spreufuhren, 1910 (ID 2000); 15. Andrei Konchalovsky, 1993 (ID 1222).
Fodder for elk in the Rockies, bison in Poland and sheep in the Cotswolds: 16. Steven Leek, Wyoming, c 1906 (ID 1366); 17. Raymond Gehman, Bison coming to fodder, Poland, 1992 (ID 1814). 18. [unknown photographer], 1964 (ID 1631).
Traditional and modern hay in snow: 19. John Hutchinson, Winter hay stacks, New England (ID 1268);
20. Joseph Sohm, Tractor lifting bale, Montana, c 1993 (ID 1812); 21. Tom Otterness, Hay makin hay, Montana, 2002 (ID 1139).
A pair of Russian winters: 22. Nikolai Lukashuk. Haystack. 2003. (ID 2311). 23. Nikolai Repin. By the haystack. (ID 2314).
Three winter woolies: 24. Lisa Graa Jensen. Winter woolies. (ID 2617).
25. Margaret Loxton. Carrying hay to sheep in winter. (ID 2629). 26. Margaret Loxton. Taking hay to the sheep by tractor. (ID 2630).
Another Kay Jacobson image from the snowy Big Hole: 27. Winter haystacks near Wisdom, MT (ID 2091).
Four for the animals.
28. Feeding winter hay to deer in New Zealand (ID 2177). 29. Hay-sleigh, Colorado (ID 2178).
30. Sheep in the hay (ID 2754). 31. Dog on hay sled, France (ID 2179).
Three generations of home and the winter hay:
32. Durrie's Returning to the farm, 1861 (ID 2410). 33. Payne's Homewards, 1921 (ID 2469). 34. New Yorker cover, 1949 (ID 2198).
Two more recent winter haystacks from Russia:
35. Lukashuk. Haystack. 2004 (ID 2761). 36. Nurtdinov. March in the village. 1998 (ID 2765).
One last star from last year:
37. Gloria Kimball, Christmas ornament -- feeding stock from a sled near the Tetons, 2003 (ID 1252).
One of the delights of webwork is that the risks of open access are more than offset by the benefits of wide exposure to the gaze of expert strangers who often become instant friends. An especially gratifying example of this virtual community development has been the email we’ve been receiving from John Hutchinson of Salem, Mass. John is as interested in the traditional salt haymaking in the marshes of the Atlantic coast as we are. And he’s certainly more knowledgeable. He’s kindly given us permission to upload his comments, paintings and photographs to our site. So here they are.
Martin Johnson Heade. Sudden shower, Newbury marshes.
|“DEAR MARSHES! vain to him, the gift of sight|
Who cannot in their varied incomes share,
From every season drawn of shade and light,
Who sees in them but levels brown and bare;
Each change of storm and sunshine scatters free
On them its largess of variety,
For nature with cheap means still works her wonders rare!"
I have downloaded your piece on Heade's Hay which I will take to bed and read tonight. It looks fascinating. I can't wait. I am sending by US Mail a package of marsh stuff you may enjoy.
“Not to be outdone by the above splendid poet, and fresh from reading Shakespeare with my 13 year old daughter, I give you:
“This Monday afternoon just one day since
A weekend blizzard lay two feet of snow
Upon the marshes of New England's coast
I hied me up Route 1 with faithful dog
To Rowley where the hay stacks stand all stark
Upon the whitened marsh with snow o'erlain,
Good Mother Nature's blanch-ed mantle pure.
“Alas, the day's warm sunshine had disrobed,
Or partially undressed each marsh hay mound
Her glor'ous bridal dress and pristine veil.
Their cedar legs showed clear 'neath lifted skirt,
Exposed to painter's wanton eager stare
The earthy beauty that beneath them there
Showed warm sienna in the sundown rays
Beauty exposed to any eye that cared.”
“I had wanted to look again at the hay stacks as they appear in the one season Heade never troubled with. There's plenty of beauty there even at this the bleakest season. I remember tramping the Newburyport marsh once many winters ago after a particularly hard freeze. The ice and snow-filled canals and trickles had been subjected to a big tide, which had pushed the ice slabs every which way in the waterways and up over their lips, and then receded to turn the surface of the marsh into a bleak and cratered extra-terrestrial white and black wilderness.
“Today a white blanket lay soft over the marsh surface. Inexplicably, I had left one boot behind and so was restricted to watching from the roadside as the sun set. We left her pristine surface unmarred by canine or human footprint.
(November 25, 2003:)
“I have been painting marine scenes for 35 years. My style owes much to Salmon/Lane/Heade et al, whose work I have worshipped for as long. My subject matter is nostalgic in feel if not subject matter. I'm a yankee who has lived in Salem, Mass., for over a quarter of a century. I delight in being in the heart of Heade country. It was in perhaps 1970 a few miles up Route 1 from Salem in the town of Rowley that members of an area Rod Gun club persuaded a local retired farmer by the name of Brown to assist them in raising a half dozen salt hay stacks in the traditional manner on a stretch of marsh near the road at the edge of the Ipswich River. I was fortunate to have met Mr. Brown and talked with him before he went on to the Great Marsh Beyond. Unhappily the stacks have been over the years worn down by weather and vandals, but their remains sit on their staddles and are easily seen from the road.
“Farmer Brown told me a wonderful story of coming in from work on the marsh with his team of white horses at the end of a scorching August afternoon. For the entire day swarms of voracious green head flies had besieged both man and beast and left the unfortunate animals covered with blood. As they came up from the marsh onto the road a passing nosy female motorist came to a screeching stop ahead of Brown, alighted from her car and began to berate him for having beaten the poor horses. It was all he could do to calm the woman and persuade her that the blood was from swarms of biting green heads and that she refrain from phoning the MSPCA to report his ill-use of his poor animals.
"I live on an ocean inlet around whose edge lies a small but identifiable salt marsh, so I can observe its seasonal changes. I have spent many outdoors hours with my daughters and dogs tramping the Rowley, Gloucester and Newburyport marshes in all sorts of weather and seasons. In my studio I have a pair of marsh horse shoes ( very hard to come by), a beautiful marsh hay rake and a good deal of literature on the practice and economics of marsh haying. I wouldn't call myself an authority on the subject but rather an experienced enthusiast.
“I have a friend who owns what we think is an early Heade pencil drawing of the marsh as illustrated in the Stebbins books. It was through looking at Heade's work that I first came to love and appreciate the salt marsh.
“Now you can understand why I was taken by your site. I wonder where you are located and how you came to love these beautiful places.
(November 30, 2003:)
> Dear John:
> I was moved and humbled by your letter. It showed how far I have
> to go to complete my harvest. But it was wonderful to learn of your
> own enthusaism and experience. I hope that I or my friend Emily (whose
> family's in Connecticut) will be able to meet you in person in the
> not-too-distant future. Where exactly is your house on the marsh?
> I'm sure you knew everything I sent to you about Heade and the other
> Newburyport artists, but my neophyte excitement may have given you
> some pleasure. I'd love to learn more of what you know, bibliographic
> sources that might be accessible to me, references to or copies of
> images that are not on my list (I have several more hundred to enter,
> from other countries and from the twentieth century, but I'd be especially
> interested in other 19th cent. American hay paintings). Do you have any
> of your own work accessible via the internet?
> My own interest stems from my childhood on a Warwickshire (English Midlands)
> farm that still used draft horses into the 1950s. My appetite for knowledge
> of all kinds comes from ten years pursuing cultural geography at Berkeley,
> followed by 25 years as an academic librarian, ultimately head of the
> library collections, also at Berkeley. I spend vacations most summers
> in Montana, often helping bring in the bales on a large cattle ranch,
> but I much prefer the loose hay making one can still see in the Big Hole
> marshes in the southwest corner of the state, and I still like to travel
> to the traditional haymaking areas of western Ireland and eastern Europe.
> Since I've been working on the virtual haystacks, I've been in frequent
> correspondence with a fellow 'hooi' lover in the Netherlands, Wim
> Lanphen. If you don't know his wesite and would like to visit, I'll
> send you the address in my next note.
> Yours haythfully,
(November 30, 2003:)
“Thank you for your kind and interesting reply.
“What a world it is out there on the marshes! Yesterday I visited with a woman who lives on the Sandwich marshes on the north side of Cape Cod at the foot of Massachusetts Bay. She is commissioning me to do a watercolor of a catboat tied up to the bank of a marsh creek. Her house is part of an upscale development of million dollar homes whose roadway names, such as 'Heron Way' and 'Marsh Hawk Path', have been sandblasted into large imported blocks of non-indigenous granite and placed at the road intersections. God knows! The developer must have greased the palms of local bowling-pin planning board members in order to have been allowed to put up those immaculately-lawned, over-architected abominations. Imagine what kind of damage the lawn fertilizers must be doing to the life in the marshes which surround these palazzos! The newcomers love the marshes though they rarely seem to walk them. Few now realize their value to the farmers who once lived along their edges and depended on their bounty.
“Leaving Sandwich I crossed the Cape Cod Canal and was soon driving alongside the great Marshfield marshes which were represented in Heade's work. They are this time of year in my opinion at their loveliest.
“I wonder if you are familiar with such terms as ‘staddle’ and "gundalow"?* Do you have any salt marsh-related literature? Are you familiar with John Stilgoe's ALONGSHORE, which you ought to be able to find in almost any serious library or bookstore; he devotes a very informative chapter (with many source notes) to the salt marsh.”
“I would like to be able to be in contact with Emil[y]** and your friend in the Netherlands,*** if you could help. Neither I nor my computer is adept at sending images onto an email letter. Could you please let me know your mailing address?
*[see our collection of ‘Hay Words’ at http://www.hayinart.com/000141.html We had staddle but not “gundalow” which is not even in the Oxford English Dictionary online version but is very googlable on the web--AR]
**[Emily Reich, technical whiz, who does our hay-tml work and is firstname.lastname@example.org --AR
*** [Wim Lanphen, founder of the first (Dutch) hay web site http://www.hooiberg.info/engels/index.htm is email@example.com ]
Of the hundreds of artists who have represented hay in their work, the one who has depicted hay most often is the nineteenth century American Luminist painter, Martin Johnson Heade (1819-1904 ). Our virtual collection now includes about 120 (roughly twice as many as those produced by the second most prolific hay painter, Camille Pissarro).
Most of these 120 can be reductively summarized to variations on the same motif cluster: several haystacks, usually one large and others diminishing in size to draw the eye into and across the landscape; a sinuous tidal waterway serving both as another perspectival device and a mirror to amplify the presence of the stacks; flat marshland, sometimes framed by willows or low fluvial terraces; sunlight and sky in the process of imminent rapid change, either at dusk or under the influence of passing storms or the filtering of transient fogs; and a barely conspicuous human presence, wagons being loaded, ruined wagons or staddles collapsing into the marsh, and tiny workers or hunters or fishermen, investing the omnipresent stacks with even more monumentality.
Marsh at dawn
Newbury hayfield at sunset
Heade’s hay works were long neglected in comparison to the more grandiose landscapes of the Hudson River school and others of his contemporaries. But in recent years they have been increasingly appreciated and thoroughly documented, most notably in the magisterial biographies and catalogues of Theodore J. Stebbins. Stebbins identified, described and reproduced well over 100 hay images in his Life and Work of Martin Johnson Heade: A Critical Analysis and Catalogue Raisonnee (Yale University Press, 2000). Significantly, Stebbins and his publishers give pride of place to the hay images by assigning to the title page a reproduction of "Ipswich Marshes" (our ID 216, see at right and below), almost as large as the original. Immediately below are two Heade hay paintings which escaped Stebbins and subsequently emerged from obscurity into the sales galleries. Two other newly emerged Heade hay paintings are shown at the end of this essay.
Marsh scene with cattle and a bridge
Turning the pages of Stebbins' monograph is more mesmerizing than monotonous, his images more comparable to a collection of the still-lifes of Morandi than the meules of Monet. All the Heade hay compositions are similar but none are identical. Their consistently panoramic shape, twice as wide as high, makes the most of their modest size. Seen together or in quick succession, they seem like frames in a documentary movie in a wide-screen format.
View at Southport, Connecticut
Sunrise on the Marshes
Duck hunters in a twilight marsh
Marshes at Rhode Island
Newburyport marshes: approaching storm
Newburyport marshes: passing storm
Sudden shower, Newbury marshes
Marshfield meadows, Massachusetts
Salt marsh hay
Salt Marshes, Newburyport, Massachusetts
Winding river, sunset
The great swamp
Marsh scene: two cattle in a field
Storm over the marshes
Hayfields: a clear day
Marsh scene, sunset --sketch
Marsh with a hunter
Sunset on the Rowley marshes
Jersey meadows with ruins of a haycart
Sunset, haywagon in distance
Marshfield meadows, Massachusetts
Jersey meadows, with distant hills
The year 2000 was notable not only for the publication of Stebbins' catalogue raisonne, but also for the excellent travelling retrospective exhibit of Heade's paintings, well received in Boston, Washington and Los Angeles, but ambivalently reviewed by Sanford Schwartz (New York Review of Books, February, 2000, pp.10-12. Schwartz “surrounded in one room at [Heade’s 1999 retrospective], by a dozen marsh paintings [felt] confined with an artist who was less an explorer of his theme than a victim of the need to keep redoing it.” (p.10).
Two of Heade's paintings indicate that he was actually amused by his preoccupation. Each shows a little happy face on a stick body peeking from under a crude studio trestle on which a marsh hay painting stands. Neither seems to depict precisely another Heade hay painting, but both resemble in their elements, oh, about a hundred other Heade works. Even the relative dimensions of the pictures in the picture conform to the other horizontal marsh paintings, but the anecdotal gremlin mischievously draining the marsh water onto the studio floor adds another few inches to the bottom. One of them "Gremlin in the Studio II," was reproduced on page 127 of the recent Hudson River School catalog (published by Yale UP in association with the Wadsworth Atheneum which owns the painting). The excellent commentary notes: 'By virtue of their subject, Heade's marsh paintings already depart from any picturesque ideal, and the impish gremlin...further heightens the viewer's awareness of the paintings as a representative object, an image of nature that should not be confused with nature itself.' (p.126)
We assume that few people, confronted by more than a few marsh haystack paintings, experienced the claustrophobia about which Sanford Schwartz complained. Most viewers would be exhilarated by the chance to see them together to compare their subtly shuffled elements and the play of light across the familiar stage. And so this essay, illustrated by over thirty Heade hay images, and our systematic database which lists them all, bring as many as possible into the same virtual museum. We trust that visitors to this hay world will share our appreciation of Heade’s genius in representing the spaces and places of salt marsh hay. They are at once timeless and ephemeral in the context of tidal and diurnal rhythms, in their fleeting conditions of light and weather, and in their monumental artifacts which, transformed by changes in agricultural technology and largely displaced by East Coast urbanization, endure now only in a few preciously preserved coastal inlets, in Heade's paintings and in the work of a few other late nineteenth century artists.
Heade's contemporaries, confronted by the same landscape, either subordinated the haystacks to the craft that plied the tidal rivers --
George Loring Brown. Medford marshes
Frank Thurlo. Plum Island River
or were awkwardly imitative and not nearly so accomplished as Heade himself.
Samuel Gerry. Gathering salt marsh hay
William Bowlen. Sloop on a marsh creek
Stebbins (p. 168-169) provides a detailed comparison between this chalk drawing by the Newburyport artist Bowlen and the more famous paintings by Martin Johnson Heade of the same marsh haystacks. This and other drawings once attributed to Heade 'make use of a one-point system of perspective, in which the haystacks and the banks of the river recede to a single vanishing point on the horizon' in contrast to Heade's more subtly dynamic suggestion of depth, which encourages the eye to move both into and across the picture.
Heade's current importance in the history of American art is reflected by the $1,006,250 sale (on December 7, 2003) of an inferior marsh painting in poor condition, and by the Heade 37 cent stamp to be issued in 2004 by the US Postal Service. Alas, the image will be of magnolias not marsh hay.
Another Heade from a private collection comes to auction in October, 2004. Given the recent sale price and significantly inferior condition of the "sloop at sunset" painting, the suggested price of this work ($400,000 to $600,000) seems low. But since I would have to sell my house to buy it, I must resist the temptation.