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ROBB AUSTIN'S TURN

Behind the Snowstorms are the Farms

February 11, 2010

This week’s snowstorms, which pounded the mid-Atlantic region of the country, were a stark reminder of how beautiful nature’s scorn can be in the dead of winter.

While it made travel and daily living in the Pennsylvania, Virginia, Maryland, and Washington, D. C. difficult, it also brought attention to the beauty and challenges facing those who live in rural areas.

Sometimes we forget about the real-life drama, and beauty, of modern farming communities, although they are often depicted on canvas.

We live in a society that is urban focused, and one in which great tribute is paid to individuals who posses the ability to position paint on a large piece of fabric.

Scenes depicted on canvas are often of livestock grazing a hillside, a sequence of barns, manicured lawns around a manor house, a farmer tending to his cattle, or a recently harvested hay field.

The painter is praised as exceptionally talented, and invariably the lines are long to see his/her work. Two of the most deserving of such artists are British painter, the late Michael Lyne, and Pennsylvania artist Peter Sculthorpe.

Sculthorpe gets his inspiration from areas which span the starkness of Newfoundland to the lush valleys of the deep south. He is best known for his landscape forms, Pennsylvania farm scenes, and depictions of horses and Belted Galloway cattle.

Twentieth Century British painter Michael Lyne continues to rank as one of the most important painters of the 20th Century. Many of his paintings were privately commissioned by landowners who wanted the well-known artist to paint the landscape of their farm. He is also known for his horse, hunt, and countryside oil paintings.

Through it all, today’s farmer toils at the daily tasks that face him, and in doing so, he or she unwittingly produces a delightful landscape that painters such as Sculthrope and Lyne aim to duplicate, yet many landscape painters (and certainly the farmers they depict) are not as famous as those two, either.

Both the painter and the farmer work long hours, often for many years, and for little pay, usually receiving scant notice for their effort. However, both love their work, and there’s a lot more to it than meets the eye.

Farmers start out their day much like they did years ago, checking and feeding cattle, group by group, pasture by pasture. One can only imagine the difficulty this week’s weather conditions placed on farmers and their livestock.

The sheer effort of getting through open fields to find and feed the livestock, and the concern over whether they had access to water (many streams were frozen), made this an exhausting endeavor for farmers and ranchers.

Their days are long and cold, but the farmer must do whatever is necessary to take care of the herd, whether it be cattle, sheep, or horses.

These days feeding cattle is easier in one respect, most farmers feed 1,200 pound round bales, which has advantages over smaller square bales which need to be stored indoors. Round bales can also be stored outside, closer to cattle pastures, and can be moved around the farm with a tractor instead of by hand.

The farms that are visual to us are charming, but behind the real vistas, which an artist copies or reinterprets on canvas, is a great deal of hard work, long hours, and love for life on the farm.

On the real life landscape are farmers, quietly working away, whom we never throng to see, but they keep working anyway.