Hallowed Harvests

From Colonial America To El Camino Real — The Great American Heritage Grains Adventure, April 2017 (Part 2)

This blog is a continuation of a series on my (Richard's) trip across the country visiting important sites related to heritage and landrace grain studies. View the other posts in the series here.

Hillwood Estate Museum, Ann McClellan, Interpreter

We’re big breakfast cereal lovers at the Scheuerman household! I still enjoy a good bowl of Post Grape Nuts or Toasties Corn Flakes, though I wish they would cut down on the sugar. I had some vague memory of the Post family’s association with Post cereals. C. W. Post was a man of humble origins and a passion for healthy living who built the Postum Cereal Company into a substantial empire. After he passed away in 1914, his only child and heir, Marjorie Meriwether Post, took over the family enterprise and transformed it into the General Foods Corporation and a host of other related concerns. In the 1930s Marjorie lived in Moscow as the wife of the U. S. Ambassador to the Soviet Union, Joseph Davies. She became fascinated by Slavic culture and began collecting treasures from Russia’s Imperial Age as many tsarist objects and works of art were sold at auction by the Soviet government in order to obtain hard currency. Ms. Post had special interest in Catherine the Great and was among the few who could afford the finest pieces which began the vast collection at her Hillwood estate west of Washington, D. C. She arranged to have the mansion and its treasures donated to the nation upon her death in the 1970s.

Russian Empress Catherine the Great (1729-1796) commissioned a breathtaking project to transform a vast area near the summer palace at Tsarskoe Selo (Pavlovsk), the “Tsar’s Village” west of St. Petersburg, into an allegorical landscape shaped by her conception of this Russian rural idyll. She found in Orthodox priest and agronomist Andrei Samborsky (1732-1815) a teacher with the proper background to tutor her grandsons and a small circle of privileged classmates like Prince Alexander Golitsyn. After graduating from the Kiev Academy in 1765, Samborsky had studied agriculture in England and served as chaplain at the Russian Embassy in London, married an Englishwoman, and returned to Russia to begin tutoring the Russian dukes in religion and natural science in 1782.

Buch Chalice with Gold Wheat Stem; presented by Catherine the Great to Nevsky Cathedral, 1791

Buch Chalice with Gold Wheat Stem; presented by Catherine the Great to Nevsky Cathedral, 1791

Hillwood’s Imperial Palace Service and Furnishings from Pushkin, Russia

Hillwood’s Imperial Palace Service and Furnishings from Pushkin, Russia

With the Empress’s support, Samborsky formulated plans for an Imperial Farm and School of Practical Agriculture on a thousand acres adjacent to Tsarskoe Selo which became an important state institution devoted to the improvement of crop and livestock production and farm management. An engraving from the time shows Samborsky plowing with an improved English implement as his distinguished Order of St. Vladimir medal hangs from a nearby tree. Open land in the vicinity was sown to wheat, rye, pasture grass, and other crops while workers labored nearby in the 1780s on Pavlovsk, the splendid summer palace of Catherine’s son, Paul I, and from 1792 to 1796 on his son’s Neoclassical residence, the Alexander Palace. The first structure built at Pavlovsk was the open air Temple to Ceres (later Catherine’s Concert Hall, 1780) by the empress’s favored architect Charles Cameron (1745-1812), a colonnaded Doric rotunda that originally contained a statue of Catherine as Ceres and painted panel An Offering to Ceres.

The Imperial Farm originally constructed from 1828 to 1830 featured buildings of Tudor Gothic country style designed by Scottish architect Adam Menelaws (c. 1750-1831) with a single story Cottage Palace built nearby as an izba containing rooms for visiting members of the imperial family. Outbuildings included a stone barn, stables, granary, and dairy, and a kitchen redesigned in 1841 to serve as a Grand Ducal School. The cottage was expanded to three floors in 1859 with the addition of bedrooms, and dining and drawing rooms to become the ocher-colored Farm Palace which Alexander II (1818-1881) used as the family’s preferred summer residence for the rest his life. When time permitted, Alexander especially enjoyed his Blue Study which displayed favored paintings of rural scenes and fine bindings, and where he signed the Emancipation of the Serfs decree in 1861.


Mt. Vernon National Historic Site

“I hope, some day or another, we shall become a storehouse and granary for the world.”  --George Washington, letter to Marquis de Lafayette, June 19, 1788

The great Business of the Continent is Agriculture.” --Benjamin Franklin, “The Internal State of America,” c. 1790

“I am never satiated with rambling through the fields and farms, examining culture and cultivators, with a degree of curiosity which makes some take me to be a fool, and others to be much wiser than I am.” --Thomas Jefferson to Marquis de Lafayette, April 11, 1787


I had day of splendid Virginia sunshine for the short drive from Washington, D. C., down to Washington’s Mt. Vernon estate overlooking the Potomac River where I made arrangements to visit the park’s living history farm and the nation’s most recently presidential library—the spectacular Smith Library for the Study of George Washington. Prior to leading freedom’s cause in the Revolutionary War, Washington first leased Mt. Vernon after the death of his half-brother, Lawrence, in 1754, and obtained full title in 1761 upon his sister-in-law’s death. Washington significantly expanded his holdings to 8,000 acres through acquisitions of Mansion Farm, Ferry Farm, Dogue Run Farm, Muddy Hole Farm, and River Farm. He began experimenting with various kinds of crop varieties in the late 1780s in order to move from tobacco to grain production in order to eliminate reliance on slave labor and in to improve the land’s fertility. My very helpful host was Lisa Pregent, who manages Mt. Vernon’s Living History Farm, where our Palouse Heritage Scots Bere barley will once again be growing after an absence of over two hundred years!

Mt. Vernon National Historic Site and Living History Farm, Lisa Pregent, Farm Manager, holding Palouse Heritage Scots Bere Barley Seed

Mt. Vernon National Historic Site and Living History Farm, Lisa Pregent, Farm Manager, holding Palouse Heritage Scots Bere Barley Seed

; and George Washington’s Restored Octagonal Threshing Barn

; and George Washington’s Restored Octagonal Threshing Barn

I continued down the winding road about five miles through the sparsely populated countryside to the recently rebuilt George Washington Gristmill and Distillery. (Someday soon they’d also like to reconstruct his farmhouse.) I arrived right at 5 PM closing time and the place was about empty, so thought my chances of any kind of guided tour were slim. But I was pleased when Head Miller Cory Welshans emerged along the lane leading to the mill with an inviting smile that seemed to say, “I’ll spare time for anybody with information about George Washington’s original grain culture.” And indeed he did show me around the grounds and invited me to return on my trip back from Williamsburg to meet Historic Trades Manager Sam Murphy.

Cory Welshans, Head Miller

Cory Welshans, Head Miller

Sam Murphy, Historic Trades Manager

Sam Murphy, Historic Trades Manager

In no tribute to my time management skills, I did return but this time a few minutes after closing hours though Sam and the milling team could not have been more accommodating to my interests. I got a grand tour of all three stories of the operating mill and found Sam, like Cory, to be a storehouse of knowledge and very interested the old White Virginia May wheat for milling and Scots Bere barley for both milling and brewing.

Mt. Vernon National Historic Site Gristmill and Distillery

Mt. Vernon National Historic Site Gristmill and Distillery


Sam provided some valued insights into Washington’s agricultural know-how and business savvy:

"President Washington did many things as a political and military leader, but here we really emphasize George Washington the agricultural entrepreneur. He led the transition from tobacco to grain culture in this region and built the two-story octagonal threshing barn based on a European design that reduced his loss to soil and sky by traditional methods from 20% to less than 10%. He also experimented with new grains from Europe and Asia, and installed the first Oliver Evans stone milling and silk-sifting equipment in the country. The reconstruction here is the only one of its kind presently operating.

"Washington developed a very lucrative milling business by vertically integrating his operations. He raised high quality milling grains for that time and installed sophisticated silk-sieve sifting equipment to separate the flour into three products—superfine white flour for the best bread and pastry flour, middlings with the bran and endosperm, and “ship stuff” for making hardtack or sea biscuit. He traded considerable grain to Caribbean markets for rum which he sold here in the Colonies, and also used those profits to import goods from China. So he was into global trade and vertical business integration long before those terms became fashionable."

Thanks again, Lisa, Corey, and Sam, and I can’t wait to see these Early American grains once again flourishing where they did in the time of our Founding Farmers!


Williamsburg, Virginia

I continued to the southeast on my rental car expedition for some 170 miles via Richmond to Colonial Williamsburg, America’s famed and meticulously restored 18th century community with generous support from the John D. Rockefeller, Jr. family. I was invited to meet with Ed Schultz and Wayne Randolf who have managed Great Hopes Plantation there and who have been wanting to restore the period’s authentic grain culture to the farm. I found them to be very gracious hosts and incredibly knowledgeable regarding Early American agricultural history. Various Williamsburg museums and libraries also contained works relevant to my “Hallowed Harvests” study.

Great Hopes Plantation Rye Field, Ed Schultz, Journeyman Farmer

Great Hopes Plantation Rye Field, Ed Schultz, Journeyman Farmer

William Prentis Store Field

William Prentis Store Field

What’s more, I hadn’t dined at the King’s Arms Tavern since first visiting Williamsburg with my wife, Lois, our parents, and my sister Debbie in the 1970s. I was pleased to find the same colonial era wines, savory pot pies, and desserts on the menu that we found back then. Today, however, some craft ales said to be based on old recipes had been added to the mix.

King’s Arms Tavern Marquis, Colonial Williamsburg

King’s Arms Tavern Marquis, Colonial Williamsburg

But I really knew I was where I was supposed to be after checking in late at night to the Quarterpath Inn and finding a framed print of this work by the French artist Jean Millet that I had been writing about in “Hallowed Harvests” hanging above my bed. Below it are some lines I composed about its significance.

Jean Millet,  Harvesters Resting  (1854)

Jean Millet, Harvesters Resting (1854)

Millet sought to paint “pictures that mattered” and the work he considered his masterpiece, Harvesters Resting—Ruth and Boaz (1857), earned the artist his first medal and is among very few paintings he explicitly based on a biblical theme. The canvas bathes Millet’s aesthetic mission in a spiritually charged golden pink light that merges appreciation of nature with faith, while the complex composition reflects associations with precedents like Breughel’s The Harvesters. In this monumental idyll, Millet reinterprets biblical Ruth and Boaz with contemporary relevance in clothing and setting to illustrate the mutual respect born of her courage and his benevolence. A jarring disparity is expressed between rustic peasant piety and privation.

Painting from a carefully moderated palette of soft tones, Millet clothes Ruth in blue, the symbolic color of purity typically seen in Renaissance portrayals of Mary, the mother of Jesus. The artist almost certainly intended this in accordance with Boaz’s proclamation that Ruth be known as a woman of excellence. Boaz presents her to his laborers, most of whom recline and eat their fill from a communal dish while Ruth clings to her grain as if she were protecting a child. She is vulnerable, excluded, and poor—like those who exist on the margins of society in any age. Yet a man of means shows uncommon compassion and chooses her to be a member of his household and offers promise of a new life.

The pithy sayings and light-hearted verse that made Benjamin Franklin’s Almanack a best-seller in Colonial and Early America reflects his creed regarding liberty of persons as a “key freedom” so Americans could own property and enjoy the fruits of their labor in the philosophic tradition of John Locke and John Milton. But in Franklin’s views, such freedom should have reasonable limits since unrestrained personal liberty could transform into licentiousness that threatened the public good through radically unequal distribution of wealth. While touring Scotland and Ireland in 1771, diplomat Franklin had seen firsthand the widespread abject poverty of the countryside which he attributed to absentee landlords and exploitive farming practices. Franklin proposed an amendment to the Pennsylvania constitution of 1776 to limit the large concentrations of farmland and other property which he believed would be “destructive to the Common Happiness of Mankind.”

Keep Within the Compass    Print   (Carrington & Bowles, 1784)

Keep Within the Compass Print (Carrington & Bowles, 1784)

Agrarian toil was likewise associated with moral wellbeing in Early America. The popular Keep the Compass allegorical broadsides, printed in England with separate versions for young men and women, depicted the benefits of proper behavior and hard work. Colorful scenes around a draftsman’s compass show the perils of vice beyond the instrument, while a harvest scene and church steeple inside represent keys to success symbolized by a sack of treasure. “KEEP WITHIN COMPASS AND YOU SHALL BE SURE,” the poster admonishes, “TO AVOID MANY TROUBLES OTHERS ENDURE.“

Stay tuned for the next installment of this blog series on Richard's "Great American Heritage Grains Adventure."

Richard's trip has been made possible by generous support from The Carolina Gold Foundation, Anson Mills and Glenn Roberts, Seattle Pacific University, the University of California-Riverside Department of History, and Palouse Heritage.

From Colonial America To El Camino Real — The Great American Heritage Grains Adventure, April 2017 (Part 1)

This blog is the beginning of a series on my (Richard's) trip across the country visiting important sites related to heritage and landrace grain studies. View the other posts in the series here.

Adolph Weinman,  Cereals  (1908), Vermont Marble;   North Pediment, U. S. Department of Agriculture Whitten Building

Adolph Weinman, Cereals (1908), Vermont Marble; North Pediment, U. S. Department of Agriculture Whitten Building

Last spring I was checking the calendar for dates of what our family calls “coming attractions”—the periodic gathering of the clan at Camp Casey on Whidbey Island in Puget Sound, family birthdays, an annual Cascades high country hike, and the like. In doing so I noticed that I had long since qualified as a member of the faculty at Seattle Pacific University for a sabbatical, and had probably missed the application deadline for this year, which turned out to be the case. Since I had done a fair amount of research and writing on environmental sustainability education which dovetailed nicely with my interests in Palouse Heritage regenerative agriculture and heirloom crops, I pled mercy from Dean Eigenbrood’s department court since the trail for further study led beyond Seattle. Many sources of information I sought were not available online but would greatly benefit from visits to the Library of Congress, Rockefeller Library at Colonial Williamsburg in Virginia, the University of California-Riverside, and other locations. With strong enrollments in our SPU teacher education and my pledge to supply the dean with bread and ale from the King’s Arms Tavern in Williamsburg, my request was thankfully granted for this current spring quarter.

Pancake Time with Amy, Andrew Ross, and Glenn;   Oregon State University Barley Day, Corvallis (2016)

Pancake Time with Amy, Andrew Ross, and Glenn; Oregon State University Barley Day, Corvallis (2016)

Valued travel support for these endeavors has also come from the Carolina Gold Rice Foundation, founded by Glenn Roberts of Anson Mills, Columbia, South Carolina. Glenn is one of the founders of the country’s “back to land and table” heritage grains and culinary arts movement, a fellow incredibly generous with his time and wisdom, and known to fly cross-country for breakfast made by our mutual friend and “Pancake Queen of America” author Amy Halloran of New York. (As I recall he also took part in Oregon State University’s Barley Conference that day last year, but mostly came for the pancakes.) I am very grateful to the SPU administration, Glenn, Amy, my wife, Lois and family, and a host of others for encouragement and arrangements and invite you to let me be your guide on this fun cross-country adventure. I’ll be posting updates here to our Palouse Heritage blog in the event you’d also like to experience new insights related to heritage, sustainability, and health. Onward!   --Richard



Capitol Mall Classical Agrarian Sculpture

For the past couple years I’ve been composing a sequel to Harvest Heritage: Agricultural Origins and Heirloom Crops of the Pacific Northwest (WSU Press, 2013), and for various reasons found the muse leading me to a work tentatively titled “Hallowed Harvests: Gleaners, Reapers, and Threshers in Western Art and Literature.” Although I barely picked up an undergrad literature minor long ago, and my formal art training chiefly consists of having watched legendary educator Arden Johnson in action at Endicott-St. John Middle School when I served as principal there in the 1990s, the prospect of completing a proper study has been somewhat daunting. But I take heart in knowing that many of authors and artists featured in the burgeoning HH manuscript had little formal training though I have tried to make up for that by reading far more library and abebooks.com volumes than I ever anticipated, and thought someone who grew up with good Palouse Country dirt on his shoes might be able to offer at least a dusting of some fresh insight on van Gogh’s Wheatfield series, Monet’s Grainstacks, Thomas Hart Benton’sharvest fields, and the sculpted Art Deco treasures at the Chicago Board of Trade Building. This trip is greatly furthering this hope by enabling me to view such works in person and meet their thoroughly informed guardians.    

James E. Fraser and Edward H. Ratti,  Heritage  (1935);   National Archives South Entrance, Washington, D. C.

James E. Fraser and Edward H. Ratti, Heritage (1935); National Archives South Entrance, Washington, D. C.

My intention has been to fly from Washington State to Washington, D. C. in order to begin this peculiar expedition by viewing examples of notable monumental agrarian art on the Capitol Mall, and then discussing heritage grain restoration with staff at the National Arboretum, Mt. Vernon Living History Farm, and Colonial Williamsburg’s Great Hopes Plantation. This begins with a confession that both back in the day as a chaperone with student groups and on personal trips to Washington, D. C., I have passed most of these monuments without ever noting their presence let alone significance. And since they grace the entrances to some of the nation’s most prominent places—the National Archives and Arlington Bridge, for example, it isn’t as if they’ve been inconspicuous. But having a dozen or so kids in your charge in the big city does have its diversions. 

In 1923 the U. S. Commission of Fine Arts, an independent federal agency charged with reviewing design of all construction in Washington, D. C., began consideration of plans authorized by Congress to build Arlington Memorial Bridge as part of a major route connecting Arlington National Cemetery with the Lincoln Memorial and Capitol district. Sculptors James Earle Fraser (1876-1953) and Leo Friedlander (1888-1966) were later commissioned to present designs for four heroic equestrian monuments at the bridge’s eastern plaza entrances—The Arts of Peace and The Arts of War. Minnesota-born Fraser had attended the Art Institute of Chicago and later studied under Augustus Saint-Gaudens at the École des Beaux Arts in Paris. He conceived of Music and Harvest and Aspiration and Literature in Neoclassical style to symbolize the aesthetics of peace, while Friedlander’s martial designs were titled Valor and Sacrifice. Earlier notable works by Fraser included the Indian Head (Buffalo) Nickel and End of the Trail, the iconic melancholy image of a mounted Sioux Indian he had created when just fifteen years old for the 1893 World Columbian Exposition. 

James E. Fraser,  The Arts of Peace—Harvest  (1950);   Lincoln Memorial Circle Fire-gilded Bronze Statue; Washington, D. C.

James E. Fraser, The Arts of Peace—Harvest (1950); Lincoln Memorial Circle Fire-gilded Bronze Statue; Washington, D. C.

Music and Harvest featured a male figure grasping a sickle and carrying sheaf of grain while striding alongside Pegasus. After fashioning a series of smaller working models, the final works were cast in Italy using the lost-wax process and fire gilding to form a 400-ton monument on a granite pedestal measuring nineteen feet high and sixteen feet long—the largest equestrian statue in the America. Budgetary constraints, World War II, and technical problems in casting works of such proportions delayed their installation until 1950.

Fraser was also commissioned to create other iconic structures in Washington, D. C., including the nine-foot tall Heritage and Guardianship monuments (1935) that flank the National Archives South Entrance. Designed by Fraser and carved from Indiana limestone by New York sculptor Edward H. Ratti (1904-1969), Heritage (see frontispiece) features a seated allegorical matriarch holding a child and sheaf of grain. The statue’s massive granite base is surrounded by images in relief of farm tools and livestock and the inscription, “The heritage of the past is the seed that brings forth the harvest of the future.”


National Arboretum

Jeff Reinhart, Grass Coordinator; Jason Wight, Field Trials Coordinator, University of Maryland College of Agriculture and Natural Resources

With Jason and “Waves of Grain” Heritage Wheat Plantings

With Jason and “Waves of Grain” Heritage Wheat Plantings

The National Arboretum covers 440 acres and Jeff works tirelessly to promote best practices and varieties for DC area managed landscapes, while Jason works directly with farmers all across Maryland. Since our son, Karl, completed his master’s degree in public policy from the University of Maryland and I hadn’t visited the school since then, I was pleased to see some familiar sights around Terp-dom. Jeff and Jason have both helped organize the popular “Waves of Grain” exhibit of demonstration plots established in 2014 for visitors who might be unfamiliar with production of wheat, barley, rye, and other crops. Jeff also manages the Arboretum’s 1 1/3 acres of various grasses, and both report strong interest in heritage grain varieties by area microbreweries because of their unique and rich flavor profiles.

Original Capitol Corinthian Columns (1826), National Arboretum

Original Capitol Corinthian Columns (1826), National Arboretum

The twenty-two sandstone Corinthian columns that appear starkly in the center of the National Arboretum were part of the original United States Capitol Building and installed in 1826. They appear in numerous pictures of presidential inaugurations from the time of Andrew Jackson to Dwight Eisenhower when they were dismantled and replaced in 1958. Jeff said they rested in obscurity along a grassy embankment until someone suggested they would make an impressive assembly at the Arboretum and in 1990 they were erected at their present location.

Constantine Brumidi,  The Apotheosis of Washington—Agriculture  (1865);   United States Capitol Building RotundaDome, Washington, D.C.

Constantine Brumidi, The Apotheosis of Washington—Agriculture (1865); United States Capitol Building RotundaDome, Washington, D.C.

Our American Founders’ grand vision for New World prosperity was beautifully translated into the design and decoration of the original Capitol Building. The massive inner and outer domes crowning the 1800 structure were completed in the 1860s with an inner oculus that reveals an enormous fresco coveringapproximately 5,000 square feet, The Apotheosis of Washington (1865) by Italian-American artist Constantino Brumidi (1805-1880). The painting depicts George Washington enthroned amidst the heavenlies above six allegorical perimeter scenes. Agriculture shows Ceres with a wreath of wheat and cornucopia perched atop a mechanical reaper (!) assisted by a capped Young America who holds the reins of the horses. Flora gathers flowers nearby. Next time you’re inside the Capitol Rotunda, be sure to look up!


Library of Congress, Farm Security Administration Collection Harvest Series

National Archives, Agricultural Extension Service Photograph Collection

National Archives, Agricultural Extension Service Photograph Collection

The Farm Security Administration (FSA) originated in 1935 as an independent government agency first known as the Resettlement Administration (RA) and one of President Franklin Roosevelt’s signature New Deal programs to promote rural recovery in the wake of the Great Depression. The RA oversaw a number of farm relief efforts including government loans to enable sharecroppers and tenant farmers to purchase their own acreage on favorable credit terms and small farm owners to underwrite equipment and operational costs. In a day when many Americans still lived in rural areas, RA field representatives established offices throughout the country to screen candidates and assist in applications, facilitate extension education, and monitor progress. 

John Collier,  Wheat Shocks in Pennsylvania  (1939)

John Collier, Wheat Shocks in Pennsylvania (1939)

In 1937 the RA was transferred to the Department of Agriculture and renamed the Farm Security Administration, and publicity efforts were launched to promote the agency’s work and acquaint government officials with the plight of the rural poor. Prior to this period the most extensive photographic documentation of American agriculture had been undertaken by George W. Ackerman and E. C. Hunter of the USDA Agricultural Extension Service in the 1920s, but their work had primarily focused on American progress in agricultural mechanization. The 1930s FSA Historical Section Photo Unit was organized by director Roy Stryker both to document the agency’s fieldwork and to foster continued support from Congress and local governments. The unit’s work under Stryker would come to significantly shape the emerging genre of American documentary photography.

Although some experimentation was done with color film as early as 1939, the vast majority of FSA photographers black-and-white. The stark and stunning visual record amassed by the unit from 1938 to 1942 yielded a prodigious collection of some quarter-million negatives ranging in size from 35 mm to 8 x 10 inches. Approximately 170,000 FSA images, digitized in the 1990s, survive as a national treasure and are now housed under controlled conditions at the Library of Congress’s Packard Campus Audio-Visual Center.

George W. Ackerman,  Unloading Wheat  (1925) and  Harvesting Wheat in Kansas  (c. 1925);   Agricultural Extension Service Photograph Collection, National Archives and Records Center

George W. Ackerman, Unloading Wheat (1925) and Harvesting Wheat in Kansas (c. 1925); Agricultural Extension Service Photograph Collection, National Archives and Records Center

Most of the photographers recruited by Stryker for the FSA devoted considerable attention to farm life, and those who especially did so included, in order of being hired, Arthur Rothstein, Ben Shahn, Walker Evans, Dorothea Lange, Russell Lee, Marion Post Wolcott, Jack Delano, Jack Vachon, and Marjory Collins. The group brought aesthetic perspectives to their far flung endeavors throughout the nation and formulated a remarkable vernacular realism of images and articles that honored the traditions of common folks while recording the lives of farm families. Complicating their plight were social adjustments in the wake of an unprecedented era of agricultural mechanization.               

FSA photographers deployed across the country during the period that witnessed the waning years of cradle scythe reaping in isolated valleys of the South and Midwest horse-drawn reapers and steam threshers to the massive horse-drawn combines of the Pacific Northwest, and the advent of combustion engine-powered harvesting equipment in all these places. Since most of his photographers were from East Coast cities or Europe, Stryker provided copies of Columbia University geographer J. Russell Smith’s authoritative North America: Its People and Resources (1925) that featured detailed descriptions and maps of the country’s geophysical regions with summaries of their distinctive rural demographics and agricultural profiles. Members of the team also periodically met to discuss methodologies and subject matter for upcoming assignments.

In the mid-1930s, Lithuanian-born Ben Shahn (1898-1969) shared a Manhattan studio with Walker Evans, who collaborated with James Agee on the classic book about three impoverished Southern tenant families, Now Let Us Praise Famous Men (1941). Shahn was well acquainted with dire poverty from his youth, and his sympathy for the down and out would be evident in a lifetime of artwork and political activism. The intellectual range Shahn applied to his work is reflected in his exhortation to students at Harvard where he delivered the 1956-’57 Charles Eliot Norton Lectures: “[B]efore you do attend a university work at something for a while. …If you do work in a field do not fail to observe the look and the feel of earth and of all things that you handle…. Read the Bible; read Hume; read Pogo. Read all kinds of poetry and know many poets and many great artists.” Pre-Raphaelites, Hudson River artists, and German Genre painters were all notable for study, as were classical and popular music, big city preachers, and small town New England politicians.

Arthur Rothstein,  Combines of More Prosperous Days, Central Oregon  (1936)

Arthur Rothstein, Combines of More Prosperous Days, Central Oregon (1936)

Dorothea Lange,  Wheat Shock, Sperryville, Virginia  (1936) and Lee Russell,  Oats, Park County, Montana  (1942)

Dorothea Lange, Wheat Shock, Sperryville, Virginia (1936) and Lee Russell, Oats, Park County, Montana (1942)

Shahn used his photographs not only to advance the agency’s moral mission of informing the wider population in order to support rural economic and social reform, but also as models for various forms of agrarian art. He photographed many harvest scenes, and later created such paintings and lithographs as Bountiful Harvest (1944), Beatitudes (1952), and Wheat Field—Ecclesiastes (1967). Shahn’s remarkable series of Ohio grain harvest photographs taken in August, 1938, consisted of over 200 images with many that feature women preparing and serving meals to famished field workers.

Among the best known Depression-era photojournalists was Dorothea Lange (1895-1965) whose iconic 1936 image Migrant Mother, for which she received a Guggenheim Prize, forever associated her work with the plight of the dispossessed described in John Steinbeck’s 1939 novel, The Grapes of Wrath. Raised under difficult circumstances herself in New Jersey, Lange studied photography at Columbia University and spent most of her adult life in California. She began working for the RA/FSA in 1935 and sought to bring public attention to the conditions of the rural poor by documenting the lives of sharecroppers, tenant farmers, and migrant workers and distributing her pictures to newspapers throughout the country.

Dorothea Lange,  Cradling Wheat near Christianburg, Virginia  (1936)

Dorothea Lange, Cradling Wheat near Christianburg, Virginia (1936)

Stay tuned for the next installment of this blog series on Richard's "Great American Heritage Grains Adventure."

Richard's trip has been made possible by generous support from The Carolina Gold Foundation, Anson Mills and Glenn Roberts, Seattle Pacific University, the University of California-Riverside Department of History, and Palouse Heritage.

Agrarian Art Color Galleries

Jean-Francois Millet,  The Gleaners  (1857)

Jean-Francois Millet, The Gleaners (1857)

My latest writing project focuses on agrarian themes in art. It will be titled Hallowed Harvests and is the latest in my "Harvest" series, along with existing titles Harvest Heritage and Harvest Home. As part of my research, I have compiled a collection of images related to agrarian art. I'll be sharing about the significance of some of these works periodically in this blog. 

The images I'll be blogging about are available in these documents here and here. The color gallery images featured in these files generally follow the sequence that I will use as I blog about them.

As a reminder, there are various categories of this Palouse Heritage blog (also known as The COMMONER), listed on the right side of the page. I chose to use these categories to help readers narrow down posts they'd be interested in as they read The COMMONER. Blog entries specifically about these images will be included in the "School & Library" category.

As always, I'd love to hear your thoughts about what I'm sharing in this or any other posts here. Feel free to leave comments below!