The artistry of Norman Rockwell has been something that has captured my attention since I first encountered it at my grandparent's house in an over-sized, coffee-table book. Rockwell had a way of capturing people in a way that let you get lost in the layers of fine detail. And yes, I mean detail in more than one way.
Obviously, the detail with respect to the content of the artwork is quite amazing. In the piece shown above, it is absolutely amazing how things like the texture of the wood on the scythe and the roughness of the farmers' hands are so clear to see. But, even more amazing is the depth and consistency of the detail of the work. Other than the unlikely appearance of the flying bird in the panel in just that position, nothing really seems out of place. Nothing rattles against the subconscious - telling us something isn't right. Even that bird belongs.
It is perfectly clear that the clothing worn by this individual is something familiar and functional. There is a wear pattern on the handle of the scythe that implies this is not the first time it has been used - just as the hands of the farmer who is wielding it are roughened and experienced in manual labor. The details showing the difference between skin regularly exposed to the elements (face, hands and neck) versus those less frequently exposed (upper arm) shows an honest familiarity of what it means to work outside. The hair is likely a little mussed under that hat and it isn't likely to get much better until the end of the work day and all of the chores are done.
This is one of my favorite Rockwell pieces as it portrays the farmer as a caretaker - one who works hard, but keeps an eye on the well-being of the world around him/her. The farmer has an appreciation for hard work and fully understands that 'things don't get any dunner, if you don't do them!" At the same time, there is a recognition of natural beauty and the fragility of life. And - the farmer knows that there is time to observe these things, even while the work waits.
Those tough, thick-fingered hands don't blister much anymore because they are all callous - but they can still hold a small bird. Gently. Kindly. With awe and wonder.
This is the image of farmer I wish we could see realized on a regular basis. Caretakers. Not businessmen. Stewards. Not commodity growers. There are plenty out there who have the heart to be this kind of farmer. It would be good if we could find a way to employ them and realize the depth of value, beauty and worth that this type of caretaker brings to the land.