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Holy Mountain I

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Recently a painting in the Dixon exhibit Black Artists in America: From the Great Depression to Civil Rights made me be still and absorb more fully the complexity of truth. It was Horace Pippin’s Holy Mountain I painting (shown above). In the explanatory note next to the painting, the curator Dr. Earnestine Jenkins noted that Horace Pippin (1888—1946) was a World War I wounded veteran who painted his painful memories of war and racism as well as his deep spirituality. The explanatory note also called attention to the date of D-Day in the lower right of the painting. The explanatory note did not mention the series of Peaceable Kingdom paintings by the Quaker artist Edward Hicks, but I felt certain that Horace Pippin’s painting must be a response to Hicks' paintings. And my at-home research has confirmed this.

Here is what Horace Pippin wrote of his Holy Mountain series: “’Holy Mountain’ came to my mind because the whole world is in such trouble, and in reading the Bible (Isaiah 11:6) it says that there will be peace in the land. If a man knows nothing but hard times he will paint them, for he must be true to himself, but even that man may have a dream, an ideal — and ‘Holy Mountain’ is my answer to such dreaming.”

Today in meeting for worship, the clerk shared a quotation from Elise Boulding, “The testimony of simplicity was a result of the effort not only to speak but to live the truth.” I thought of this painting – and of the ways it differs from the already complex truth of Edward Hicks’ paintings. In this painting, the woods surround the peaceable kingdom, and in the woods is a soldier’s graveyard. We can see a soldier in the act of shooting a man. In the foreground, the white child is holding what may be a grenade. Near the baby is something that may be a severed hand. At the very center of the painting is the shepherd, who resembles a younger Horace Pippin (before his right arm was rendered unusable by war). He stares at the viewer with the same apprehensive but centered gaze as the animals around him.

Today, in meeting for worship, I meditated on how simplicity requires us to acknowledge the complexity around us.

The exhibit is open through January 2.