We’ve been blessed in San Francisco to have two extensive exhibitions of works from the famed Impressionist museum in Paris, the Musée d’Orsay, at the de Young Museum of Fine Art. In the first of these two exhibitions one work haunted me a bit more than some of the others. That work was Haymaking by Jules Bastien-Lepage. In this piece the exhaustion of the agricultural worker at the end of the day is powerfully portrayed.
The feeling this painting gave me I could not forget as I picked up my camera during harvest 2010. I doubt I’ll ever see another harvest without seeing Haymaking in the back of my mind. Having grown up around farmers, my uncle and grandparents were dairy farmers in Illinois, and spending many a day during summer breaks and weekends helping on their farms I too remember the heat, sweat and endless work. Something I was lucky enough to leave behind.
In California and most agricultural states the majority of the real work is done by Mexicans who risk arrest and face the brutal prejudice of Americans (none of whom seems to want the jobs they take) to earn a living for their families. If you think you have any idea what they go through you are lying to yourself. From the most expensive California wines to Two Buck Chuck, none would exist without these workers. This is a concept that few consider as they sip their expensive wine in an even more expensive restaurant while raging on about how we should be building a wall along the Mexican border. It seems that good taste in wine does not improve the conscious of those drinking it. When we take a sip of wine, it seem the least we could do to remember and honor those that sweated to bring it to us.
What struck me in the photo above was the ballet-like symmetry which flowed through this crew as they worked. They are picking Stewart Vineyard Merlot just south of the town of Napa. The wine from these grapes is beautiful and they are a part of it.