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A Vintage Wheat Treat for Your Walls

Wheat, Pennsylvania by John Collier, Jr.
8"x10" ($24) | 11"x14" ($60) | 16"x20" ($240) | 24"x30" ($1,200) 

Take a drive around Pennsylvania farm country in the summer and you'll find yourself on a few single-lane roads flanked by acres and acres of golden grain. You're bound to see farmers steering their combines through the wheat fields. If you’re lucky, you might even catch a hint of what John Collier, Jr. captured in Wheat, Pennsylvania.

Looking at today’s edition, it’s clear Collier exercised a keen artistic eye. His composition is beautifully balanced, jiving flawlessly with the rule of thirds—the wheat pile looming large, breaking the horizon line. The softness of the cloud-crowded sky contrasts with the linear quality of the wheat, a complementary relationship that’s underscored by the juxtaposition of flaxen yellow and purple-blue. Wheat, Pennsylvania is an viscerally textural image—you can practically feel the brittle stalks, the springy stook, and the rain-heavy air on the verge of bursting into a summer nearly as you can smell the dust of harvest.

But Collier was best-known for his use of photography as a means of anthropologic and ethnographic study. During his time with the Farm Security Administration, he took its mission statement—“introducing America to Americans”—very seriously. He shot this particular photograph in the summer of 1943 while at work for the FSA.

Pennsylvania grows what’s known as “winter wheat”. The inviting, poufy mound we see here is called a stook. When wheat is harvested by hand, it’s cut and bundled, tied into sheaves, then stacked into stooks that are carefully composed in order to allow air to circulate. Those combine machines we mentioned earlier skip the sheaving and stook steps and go straight from reaping (cutting) to threshing (separating the wheat grain from the chaff).

In other words, on display in this image is a definitively old-school harvesting method, a far cry from the mechanized operations in modern-day fields. Wheat, Pennsylvania is a take on a rural American moment as only an artist could conceive—70 years later, it's at once bygone and totally timeless in its symbolic familiarity.

With art for everyone,
Jen Bekman + Team 20x200