As it is mid-February and I’ve been working on my 2013 seed order, I dug up this vintage seed-catalog cover and placed it on my desktop. Out of hundreds of similar images that one can find online, this one has always seemed to me among the best.
Consider the painting’s portrayal of abundance: the overflowing of perfectly formed fruits and vegetables; the quality wheelbarrow; the young man’s clean clothes, hat, bright face, smile, and rosy cheeks; the well-maintained field and house. And youthfulness: the abundance of energy and confidence and strength, especially as derived from the land, from the worked earth.
Notice the visual line that runs from the “P” at the top of the painting down and across the young man’s forehead, nose, chin, shirt buttons, pants, across his produce, to end, finally, at the bottom of the wheel at the bottom of the painting. Just as the line centers the painting visually, so the load of produce clearly centers the young man’s life, both physically and emotionally. While the radiance of the face seems directly attributable to the wonder of the produce, the radiance also seems attributable to the work that makes such produce possible—planning, planting, tending, harvesting, delivering.
Is the painting a fantasy? It is. It’s an advertisement. It’s a blatant air-brushing of reality for the purpose of selling seeds. But the portrayal of genuine emotion remains. The joy of growing food, the satisfaction of work, the profound connection to land and landscape that gardening and small-scale farming make possible—somehow the artist understood that these emotions are not fantasy and that they cannot be covered over. And while it is true that a hundred years later these emotions have been almost entirely air-brushed over by urban and industrial America, they do still exist. Young people like the young man in the painting keep turning up, and they hold and embody these very emotions. You can find these young people at farmer’s markets from New Hampshire to California, their produce heaped high, their smiles bright and genuine.