"When dawn spreads its paintbrush on the plain, spilling purple... ," Sons of the Pioneers theme for TV show "Wagon Train." Dawn on the mythic Santa Fe Trail, New Mexico, looking toward Raton from Cimarron. -- Clarkphoto. A curmudgeon artist's musings melding metaphors and journalism, for readers in more than 150 countries.

Friday, December 20, 2019

Don't Fence Me In--5 days 'til Christmas

"Come unto me," 5 x 7 watercolor card
When I first painted this Christmas card, I was thinking of the West and great Plains where I grew up and have spent most of my life. 
I can't remember not living where I've always seen barbed wire and taken it for granted. It had no negative connotations, and for the most part, in the U.S. and other agricultural areas, it does not. I even helped string some of it in New Mexico once, that that's a different story.
But now as I sit down to write about this image, other thoughts come to mind. This process of writing about a painting--every painting has at least one story--prompts stream of consciousness associations.
First I thought about Jesus beckoning people:
"Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me; for I am meek and lowly in heart: and ye shall find rest unto your souls..."(Matthew 11:28-3)
In this painting  the beckoning star, and Jesus, is fenced off by that wire, which has become in many places a symbol of oppression and denial of freedom and even violence.
It didn't begin that way. An American invention in agricultural Illinois in the 1870s, it provided low cost fencing as the country expanded westward and the cattle industry exploded. It has even been credited with being the wire that "tamed" the West.
But conflict soon followed, especially in Texas, where ranchers wanted open range for cattle and led to confrontation with farmers protecting crops. 
Within a few years, it became a weapon of war, most notably in the trench warfare of WWI. In the next war, Germany and Japan used it brutally in concentration and POW camps,  and America in Asian internment caps.
After the war, it became part of East Germany's famous border of which the Berlin Wall was a portion, called "Mauer und Stacheldraht" ("wall and barbed wire"). Today Amnesty International has barbed wire in its symbol.
All a long way from Illinois, but these thoughts keep coming, as American politicians try to build a wall on our southern border.
I thought of Robert Frost's fitting thoughts in the poem, "Mending Wall."
   "Before I built a wall I'd ask to know
     What I was walling in or walling out, 
   And to whom I was like to give offense. 
   Something there is that doesn't love a wall,
   That wants it down."
Ironically, Americans used to claim that East Germany had the wall up to keep people in. Russians would point to our barriers on our southern border saying the same thing about us. 
didn't mean this to be political as an article when I painted the card, but the fact is barbed wire has been political for a long while, as has Jesus, from his birth to his death and ever since.
Then I thought of the romantic Western song, "Don't Fence Me In." Yes, it's political, but it speaks to me more positively about the spirit of the West and Great Plains, and being free.
"Oh, give me land, lots of land under starry skies above
  Don't fence me in
  Let me ride through the wild open country that I love
  Don't fence me in
"Let me be by myself in the evening breeze
  Listen to the murmur of the cottonwood trees
  Send me off forever, but I ask you please
  Don't fence me in
"Just turn me loose, let me straddle my old saddle
  Underneath the western skies
  On my cayuse, let me wander over yonder
  Till I see the mountains rise
"I want to ride to the ridge where the west commences
  And gaze at the moon until I lose my senses
  I can't look at hobbles and I can't stand fences
  Don't fence me in"
Oh, and just a thought--if there had been barbed wire fencing everything in Jesus day, his parents probably wouldn't have been able to travel from Nazareth to Bethlehem because there would not have been any "open range."
So I guess, if I painted this again, it'd just be a wire fence with an open gate.
Heavy thoughts this morning perhaps with only five days until Christmas, but it seems appropriate, if it emphasizes the spirit of Jesus is of peace and love and open arms and freedom.

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