By Karen Parr-Moody
In the years prior to World War II, life in America meant depending on local farmers for fresh food, even among city dwellers. It was a golden era in agriculture, during which weathered barns looked majestic and cattle seemed peaceful as they graced in verdant pastures.
Today, using farm animals as home décor is a bid to reconnect with that farm life from which we have strayed. From stately paintings of pigs to animal icons seen on kitchen counters, there are many ways to capture farm life.
The history of artists capturing bucolic farm scenes goes back hundreds of years. Perhaps the most famous for painting the agrarian life was Dutch artist Pieter Bruegel the Elder (1525 to 1569). His scenes of 16th-century peasant life depicted humans and animals paired together in such works as "The Return of the Herd" and "The Harvesters." So while Michelangelo Buonarroti and his fellow Italian Renaissance luminaries were rendering high-minded subject in lofty brushstrokes and chisel marks, Bruegel was elevating the lowly cow and pig.
One can understand the attraction of farm animals by examining the painting of the beautiful Holstein cow, above right ($838; Booth B-218). It is simply called "Lu-Lu" and is by F. Simosisi. The animal's soulful, intent gaze is captured in thick strokes of buttery oil paint. One can easily see she is not simply a member of a herd, but an individual with her own personality.
The painting, left, is entitled "Su-Suey & Her Gang" and is by W. Kerckhoven ($1,995; Booth B-218). And what a gang it is. Pigs have been domesticated for thousands of years and are known to be quite intelligent, capable of performing tricks. Su-Suey and her fellow pigs could bring their charming personalities to any room, reminding us of a time when such creatures milled about stone cottages in creek fed pastures.
This folk art pig in the photo, right, is made from 100-year-old barn roof tin ($199; Booth B-114). How is that for authenticity? Having such a piece of folk art in one's décor is completely au courant, fitting in with the movement of reclaiming and reusing old materials. Many artists are taking the tin from old barn roofs and using it in tin cutting. They may develop their own patterns or get inspired by early-American styles, such as weathervanes and decoys. This darling pig certainly possesses turn-of-the-century flair.
The horse is known to some as a farm animal, to some as a race horse, and to some as a mode of transportation. The bookend in the photo, left, features a horse with a rider ($39; Booth B-200). But this isn't just any horse and rider. It is a piece inspired by the famous sculpture "The End of the Trail" by sculptor James Earle Fraser (1876 - 1953). That piece is one of the more famous sculptures ever produced about American Indians. It was inspired by Fraser's many interactions with Native Americans throughout his childhood.
What farm is complete without a pesky little rabbit, such as the charming one in the photo, right ($77.99; Booth B-204)? This concrete fellow, with his original paint, calls to mind Mr. McGregor, who contended with Peter Rabbit stealing his vegetables back in 1902. That was when Peter Rabbit first hopped into the garden in the book "The Tale of Peter Rabbit." The tome tells us, "First he ate some lettuces and some French beans; and then he ate some radishes." When he was chased out of the garden, Peter lost his jacket and shoes, which this garden ornament also seems to have done. He would certainly hold court among some vivid flowers.
While most of us work at desks all day, we can still chose home décor that ushers in a whiff of the farm. Such scenes remind us of wildflowers and nature's wonders. Farm fresh eggs, milk and produce may be a thing of the past for many, but we can surround ourselves with imagery of this bygone day to bring in a breath of fresh air.