Bringing in the sheaves with Vincent

Woke up at four a.m. again, with this song in my brain:

Bringing in the sheaves, bringing in the sheaves,
Goodness how delicious, bringing in the sheaves.

Glad I could go back to sleep, and didn't have to put on my sabots to walk to the wheat field for a day of reaping, binding and gleaning. The powerful images from the Dallas Museum of Art's current exhibition, Van Gogh's Sheaves of Wheat, played a slideshow inside my eyelids to go with the song.

The exhibit was crowded on the day after Christmas, of course, but it was a rare chance to see it with my son. The show ends January seventh.

Because we are so bombarded with reproductions of Van Gogh's paintings on everything from slick magazine ads to umbrellas, his raw drawings are more commanding. The women workers in the charcoal drawings have the mass and strength to challenge John Henry and his hammer. In contrast, the pen and ink landscapes with repetitive strokes and delicate detail look like patterns for embroidery.

The exhibit puts Van Gogh's wheatfields in context with lovely works by Millet, Breton, Gaughin, and Pissaro. I've never heard of the artists of two of my favorite pieces. I quote Gaile Robinson from the Fort Worth Star Telegram:

Threshing Machine-Loiret (1893) by Gabriel Rigolot is a rare example from the late 19th century that depicts the first piece of mechanized farm equipment. Before its invention, the process of removing the chaff from the grain was done entirely by hand, providing painters ample opportunities to find laborers in the fields.

Inclusion of the threshing machine called to mind the DMA's exhibit of Charles Sheeler "Power" Series. We take just three steps:

  1. Van Gogh's monumental women working in the field, bending over to bind the sheaves by hand.
  2. The Rigolot painting of the threshing machine.
  3. Charles Sheeler's paintings of monumental machines in which the human figure has almost disappeared.

I've never heard of Rigolot or Ernest Bieler. The DMA label reads "Ernst Bieler" on a work that stuns me again this visit to the exhibit. My son is equally impressed by this large painting of two girls plaiting straw. It looks like a Japanese poster composed with the girls' faces almost lifesize and disconcertingly near the top of the picture. It resembles the German marquetry pictures my father and uncle brought home from WWII--very linear, and graphic, but within each outlined shape is a subtle pattern like wood grain in cut lumber. I haven't found much information about Ernest Bieler, but he was Swiss, and lived 1863-1948. After studying in France, and exhibiting at the Salon, he went to the Swiss alpine villages to paint.

So I found an image of a Bieler painting very similar to the one at the DMA. I Photoshopped it with peanut butter to make it look like inlaid wood. It's so close to the wonderful marquetry pictures that hung on the walls at my grandma's and great-aunts' houses. Those images were my childhood concept of, "Once upon a time..."

Peanut butter.

Peanut butter...

A peanut sat on a railroad track.
Its heart was all aflutter.
Round the bend came Number Ten.
Toot, toot, peanut butter.



Sowing in the morning, sowing seeds of kindness,

Sowing in the noontide and the dewy eve;

Waiting for the harvest, and the time of reaping,

We shall come rejoicing, bringing in the sheaves.


Bringing in the sheaves, bringing in the sheaves,

We shall come rejoicing, bringing in the sheaves,

Bringing in the sheaves, bringing in the sheaves,

Vince and I are eating, eating goober peas.

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