NARRATOR: A man and a woman are finishing a frugal meal together. You can see there are only two plates on the table, an empty coffee cup, and a sugar bowl full of spoons. The couple may be poor, but they seem to have great dignity. Notice how their powerful, gnarled hands invoke a lifetime of hard work.
The painter, Thomas Hart Benton, knew these people. In real life they were deaf mutes who lived near him on Martha’s Vineyard. Here they become symbols of the old-fashioned rural values he championed. Benton was one of a group of painters in the thirties who turned their backs on the sophisticated world of cities. They embraced a nostalgic, idealized vision of a simpler life. Critics called them “American regionalists,” and Benton made no bones about preferring America to Europe: He once said, “I love America . . . It motivates me; it is a constant source of stimulation to my own activity. Its people and its way have values for me which are intensified year by year.”
Notice the sampler hanging on the wall behind the man’s head; you can make out part of a quote from the Bible. It says: “The Lord is my shepherd.” The man and his wife stand for faith, hard work, temperance, and endurance—the qualities Benton thought could save the country in troubled times.