Page 34 - Scene Magazine 45-07 July 2020
P. 34

  Local Interest
BY AARON D. EDLEFSON, MPA
Director, Calhoun County Veterans Affairs
   On a wall in my office, directly in front of my desk, hangs a canvas repro- duction of Winslow Homer’s “The Vet- eran in a New Field.” Its placement there was no coincidence. I wanted to hang it where I would naturally look up when working at my desk. When you first glance at the painting you see the back of a simply dressed farmer working on har- vesting a field of wheat using a scythe. As your eyes wander from the farmer to the rest of the painting you notice, in the bottom right hand corner, a jacket and canteen laying on the ground. The jacket and canteen reveal that the farmer is a Veteran of the Union army. When I first viewed this painting, it spoke to me. I saw the image of a Veteran leaving his war behind and focusing on the future. At face value, I was right. Yet I failed
to consider the intricacies and historical aspects of the painting.
The painting was completed in the fall of 1865, the year in which the Civil War
ended and President Lincoln was assassi- nated (events that transpired within five days of each other). Yet by 1865 the scythe being used by the Veteran to harvest the wheat was outdated. Why then would the Veteran be using it? Homer uses the scythe to represent the personification of death, the Grim Reaper. Even Homer’s use of a wheat field is calculated. Many Civil War battles were fought in wheat fields and a portion of the Gettysburg battlefield was known as the Wheatfield. Articles I’ve read surmise that the painting embodies both mourning over Civil War deaths and the death of President Lincoln as well as hope for the future.
full grown, clearly not a new field. Rath- er, the title refers to the Veteran’s new profession and even though the Veteran has now become a farmer he is still using an implement that represents death in a field representing fallen soldiers. What’s more is his feet are buried in the fallen wheat indicating that he will always be mired in the death that once surrounded him. This outlook totally changes the way in which I view this painting when I look up from my desk. Whereas I used to look up and see hope, I now look up and see despair. No matter what the Veteran in the painting does, he will always carry the weight of war on his shoulders. There are Veterans today in our community who feel this way, but there are people who want to help them.
A Consideration of Art
However, I have discovered anoth-
er interpretation in the painting that conflicts with my original one. Knowing what I now know about the scythe and the wheat, I see a Veteran who can never be free from his war. The title “The Vet- eran in a New Field” doesn’t refer to the field of wheat. The wheat in the picture is
If you are a Veteran who needs help, or know of a Veteran who needs help, please do not hesitate to contact Calhoun County Veterans Affairs at (269) 969-6734 or email us at va@calhouncountymi.gov.
 Providing services for veterans and their families.
Federal Benefits Emergency County Burial and Programs Assistance Benefits Benefits
                                                                                                          (269) 969-6735 • 190 East Michigan Avenue, Third Floor, Battle Creek, Michigan calhouncountymi.gov/departments/veterans_affairs/index.php
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