When I was in high school, I thought that I wanted to go to art school for college. I took classes at the Currier Museum of Art art school, and so naturally, my first-ever part-time job was as a Gallery Attendant (aka security) for the museum, which was just a couple blocks from my high school. Working at the museum meant hours on my feet. I quickly became familiar with the museum’s collection.
This painting, “Freeman Farm: Winter,” painted in 1935 by Maxfield Parrish was one of my favorites to stop and admire when I was assigned to the gallery it was displayed in at that time. Parrish was an illustrator, a contemporary of Norman Rockwell, who used vivid colors and each piece of his feels like it has a touch of the fantastic. Yet, this painting is simple. It makes me think of the novel “Ethan Frome” or poems by Robert Frost. What I love about it is that you can’t quite tell if it is supposed to be twilight or sunrise.
Advent is the season of in-between, already-and-not-yet, and it coincides with this ancient moment of waiting for the solstice (the longest night of the year and the slow return of the sun). There is something powerful about this season and connecting to nature. As we head indoors, or busy ourselves with holiday shopping (although, this year it may be online), we might miss these moments of the natural world, like the last kiss of the sun on the horizon.
This painting also makes me think of this poem by Wendell Berry, who is a farmer himself:
Remembering that it happened once,
We cannot turn away the thought,
As we go out, cold, to our barns
Toward the long night’s end, that we
Ourselves are living in the world It happened in when it first happened,
That we ourselves, opening a stall
(A latch thrown open countless times Before),
might find them breathing there,
Foreknown: the Child bedded in straw,
The mother kneeling over Him,
The husband standing in belief
He scarcely can believe, in light
That lights them from no source we see,
An April morning’s light, the air
Around them joyful as a choir.
We stand with one hand on the door,
Looking into another world
That is this world, the pale daylight
Coming just as before, our chores
To do, the cattle all awake,
Our own white frozen breath hanging
In front of us; and we are here
As we have never been before,
Sighted as not before, our place
Holy, although we knew it not.
– Rev. Emelia