West Rock, New Haven
Haying Near New Haven
), 1849. New Britain Museum of American Art, Talcott Art Fund, 1950.10. Oil on canvas
West Rock, New Haven is an oil painting on canvas measuring 27 1/8 inches by 40 1/8 inches. It hangs in a gilded wood frame that may be original to the painting. The landscape depicts fields, hedgerows, forests of deciduous and mixed coniferous trees, isolated trees in field margins, a stream, low and high ridges, animal-drawn carts, three men, a church steeple, and a cloud-streaked sky. There is some evidence of a dirt road near the center of the middle distance.
The two broad zones of land and sky divide the painting into unequal sections, 60% of the represented landscape occupied by sky and 40% by land. Clouds extend through much of the sky, with high and low cloud layers to the left and nearly uninterrupted cloud layers filling the sky to the right. The land occupies clearly defined foreground, middle ground, and distant background, with fields, hedgerows, the meandering stream, the carts, and men to fore and middle, and high ridge and rolling hills covered by forest and additional fields receding from view.
The narrow stream winds through right foreground and middle ground, partially obscured by a slight rise in the land. Wildflowers dot the far bank to either side of a cut tree stump, and water-lilies grow in a foreground portion of the stream. A small section of stream bank inclines down from the right. Trees and sky reflect from foreground stream waters. Two expansive fields lie to the left, separated from each other by a broken hedgerow and from the stream by groupings of medium-height trees. Trees and shrubs also border the left edge of the field in the foreground, one of them distinguished by spreading crown, broken top, and red foliage. Hitched with two oxen, a hay cart faces to the right a short distance from the stream. One man centers himself on the hay cart, balanced atop the cart's mounded hay pile, a pitchfork in hand. A second man, his back to the viewer, holds a rake to the ground while facing in the direction of this hay cart. Another hay cart bearing its load of hay stands partially obscured by trees to the left, as a third man sits on top of the pile, his rake protruding from the pile. The first man wears long, dark pants, a white shirt, and a tan hat with dark band and a wide brim. The second man wears long, brown pants, a white shirt with red sleeves, and a black hat with wide brim. The third man wears long, blue pants, a white shirt, and a tan, wide-brimmed hat. Two of the men wear suspenders. The man in the center is dark-skinned. The other men are lighter-skinned.
Each cart stands in front of a series of low hay piles arranged through the nearer field near the meandering stream. Flanked by the two carts, an oak tree spreads its branches wide, providing shade for a small red pail or basket and a small, white pitcher, resting side by side on the ground below. The painting is signed "F. CHURCH/1849" at the lower left, near a grouping of dark red boulders.
The middle ground and distance are more heavily forested than the foreground, yet are themselves interrupted by a series of open fields or meadows extending to the distant horizon. The tall ridge dominates the center of the landscape, divided equally into heavily forested ridge top and left slopes, and nonvegetated shear cliffs rising above an exposed talus slope. A white church steeple appears through the trees in front of the forested ridge. Above, a rich blue sky holds bands of cumulus and cumulostratus clouds. The clouds hang above the ridge top, and they extend far in the distance.
Long and short horizontals dominate the scene. No fewer than thirty bands of clouds demarcate the sky, with greatest layering above and to the right of the ridge. Several long shadows stretch across the fields, similarly banding the land. The long, low ridge of the middle ground is interrupted by the vertical cliff behind. Hay carts, men, tools, hay piles, and hedgerows constitute a strong foreground horizontal. Taken in order from foreground to horizon, horizontal bands occur as shadow, sunlit field with carts, men, and hay piles, shadow, sunlit field, hedgerow, shaded field, low ridge, and high ridge. Vertical elements distribute through the scene less extensively, but they group tightly together and connect land with sky. A series of rock columns define the exposed cliff face, separating vertical groupings of clouds from the trees below. Sections of winding stream reflect the clouds in the sky above. The men in the field and the church steeple in the distance appear as small but prominent verticals.
Strong diagonals appear in the foreground oak's trunk, the three rakes, the stream meanders and stream banks, the steep talus slope and the less steep forested cliff slopes, and cloud margins. Circles, semi-circles, and ellipses reveal themselves in hay cart wheels, small hay piles, pail or basket, pitcher, men's hats, tree silhouettes, ridge profile, and clouds. Triangular elements include the church steeple, three separate portions of the stream, spaced apart by sloping land or by shadow, groupings of men and steeple, the crossed suspenders of two men, tree groupings, and clouds. Rectangles and rhomboids form from hay piled on carts, field lots, a small window in the church steeple, and the men's torsos.
Landscape materials and textures consist of rock (foreground rocks and cliff face), wood (trees and shrubs, also long tool handles and church steeple), plant fiber, water (stream and suspended cloud vapors), metal (tool heads and wagon wheel rims), cloth (men's garments), leather (oxen skin and harness straps), and horn. Predominant colors are blue sky, white, pink, and salmon clouds, light and dark green trees and shrubs, red cliff face, tan fields, hay mounds, and hay piles, white shirts, white church steeple, blue pants, red shirt sleeves, brown pants, brown cart wheels. Blues, whites, reds, and greens are most evident. Greatest light intensity and strongest color values are seen in the men's white shirts and their left-facing sides, the church steeple, the tops of the hay mounds, the reflecting waters of the stream, the cliff face and talus slope, the sunlit fields, and the tops of billowing clouds. The single greatest light intensity appears on the church steeple.
West Rock, New Haven
(1849) stimulates the senses in a variety of ways, presenting diverse sights, sounds, smells, tastes, and senses of touch. Three men pile newly cut hay onto two hay carts in a hedgerow-bordered agricultural field beside a gently flowing, meandering stream. A basaltic trap rock ridge looms in the center background. Its lower slopes hold a mosaic of agricultural fields, bordered by forest and extending into the distance at left. A church steeple rises into view between the fields and the ridge, marking the location of an unseen village green. White clouds accented by angled sunlight pass across the field of view. The picture presents a rich mingling of colors: bright yellow-greens of hay fields, rich dark greens of mixed hardwood forest, soft blue skies patched by billowing cumulus clouds and reflected in smooth-flowing waters, and bold red cliffs rising near-vertically above a steeply angled talus slope.
In the scene, areas of movement contrast with areas of stasis. Of the three men, the central figure draws his rake across the mowed field and prepares a mound of hay for transfer to the cart. His fellow worker atop the hay cart uses a pitchfork to level the hay pile and complete the load. Two oxen stand impassively and await further commands to haul the filled hay cart away. A second cart to the left already is filled, and its farm hand has jabbed his fork into the completed pile and assumed a seated position atop the hay. He looks at his co-workers, awaiting the completion of their task and an end to the day's work. Shadows lengthen across the fields as late afternoon gives way to early evening. The stream flows south from distant hills, disappearing from view in the right foreground. Westerly winds carry clouds from left to right across the field of view, which is generally to the north and east. Tree leaves blow gently in the sporadic breezes, the tree boles anchored securely to their soils. The church steeple breaks the tops of the surrounding trees, fixed on a firm foundation. Cliff face and talus slope maintain a tenuous equilibrium, balancing short term stability with longer term dislodging, falling, and accumulation of boulders, cobbles, and pebbles.
A superficial stillness is punctuated by quiet sounds that emanate from throughout the depicted scene. The man with rake in hand breathes heavily from his extended exertions, while the oxen force snorting exhalations and gastrointestinal murmurs. Occasional verbal commands help to keep the animals steady. Water flows in riffles across a shallow bar in the foreground portion of the stream. The far-off cliff hides periodic rattles of falling rock. We await the next ringing of the church steeple's bell.
The heat of the day gives way to cooling breezes. Lingering memories and expectant thoughts of drinking water and food are directed toward the basket and pail resting below the wolf tree oak standing back from the edge of the nearest field. The workers' backs are tired, their hands are sore, and their feet ache in their snug boots. Suspenders lighten the weight of work pants, but clothing still clings to sweaty bodies. The weight of tired brows masks a sense of accomplishment for a full day's productive work.
The scene is of a late afternoon or early evening in mid-summer in the central valley lowlands of southern New England. In a region of four distinct, changing seasons, this is the hottest portion of the annual cycle. This is the time for harvesting the fields of hay. It is one of the three cuttings these fields will receive. While the workers in the foreground enjoy cooling breezes mitigating the heat of day, the exposed cliff in the background is blasted with much stronger, steady gusts. Powerful updrafts of air at the ridge top are not hinted at on the more gentle slopes that recede from view on the eastern side of the ridge. The ecological time scale depicted includes warm air rising to create thermals over the ridge, blowing breezes and passing clouds, flowing water and minor sediment transport, a peaking of biomass production in terrestrial and palustrine habitats, and an agricultural harvest measured in terms of the annual cycle of seasons.
From a geological perspective, agents of change shape and have shaped this environment. They include the weathering and erosion of upland rocks to form sedimentary bedrock in this faulted river valley (the red rocks discerned in the left foreground consist of New Haven arkosic sandstone), intrusive deposits of magma welling up from the earth's mantle (seen now in the basaltic ridge and its columnar structure), erosive forces of a stream that downcuts the sedimentary layers while meandering across its floodplain, continually changing direction of flow, and depositing nutrients to further enrich the soils, and the mass wasting of the fractured cliff face, due to columnar jointing, freeze-thaw action in winter, and the inexorable pull of gravity to build up a substantial talus slope on its western margins.
Cycles dominate the scene. The cycle of seasons is depicted in the harvest. The rock cycle of igneous (plutonic magmas), sedimentary (depositional material), and metamorphic (transformed by temperature and pressure) rock types is represented in different portions of the picture. Components of the hydrologic cycle occur as clouds, humidity, and flowing stream. The hydrologic cycle involves the world of human activity, as well: pitcher of water, intake into men's bodies, perspiration and evaporation to the atmosphere. The carbon cycle is present in the various stages of carbon fixation (production of photosynthate by green plants) and carbon release (through animal respiration), and in the anticipated leaf abscission of the approaching autumn season.
Ecological disturbance also dominates the scene. Formerly extensive forest lands have given way to the development of agricultural fields. Natural and human-induced fire regimes occur. Stream banks are undercut by periodic flooding of the meandering stream. Seasonal storms such as nor'easters occur, as does periodic drought. Erosion and mass-wasting occur in uniform and catastrophic events and time scales.
We viewers are positioned on a rise above the fields, witnesses to the developing relationship of man and nature. We are here as passive observers, but we can receive instruction from the depicted scene. Although we are above the fields, we are well below the lofty heights of the cliffs and ridgeline in the background. We stand on the right bank of the stream, although an unseen meander of the stream may place us to the left. The rise that we stand on is seen in the red outcrop of rocks in the left foreground. It is thus unclear if we need to cross the stream in order to reach the hay carts and workers. Much has occurred prior to this moment: clearing of fields, growing of hay, cutting hay with hand-held scythes, piling of hay on the carts, a lunch break or rest from labors, and in a longer time span the establishment of an agrarian society. At least one of the workers, the central figure with rake in hand, is a black man. All three men are farm hands employed to work the fields and harvest the crop. Earlier, they set out from a farm with empty carts, heading to their fields of toil. Shortly, they will return to the nearby farm and its barns to deliver their harvest. The hay they have gathered will feed domesticated animals (horses, cows, sheep, oxen). It will be used as a saleable crop in the local economy an agrarian economy.
The emotional response elicited by this scene includes reverence for the bounty of nature, awe of the natural beauty on the environment, satisfaction with a bountiful harvest, and caution about the various sources of disturbance that periodically and regularly intrude on this seemingly harmonious setting. It includes an appreciation of history encompassing Native Americans, colonials, and Americans living in a young nation, a sense of mystery and curiosity about the biological richness of the region, and a sense of concern about the great potential for overexploitation of natural resources. This is a time period that still is characterized by a sense of sustainable development and sustained yield. Yet, it suggests a loss of wilderness, a loss of habitat and species diversity, changing land use practices, changing flora and fauna, and changing ecological dynamics. As West Rock Ridge has been the focal point of my field research for the past twenty years, I am drawn into the scene and wish to travel through it.