In this video blog (or, “vlog”), educator Lauren Ridloff discusses artist Thomas Hart Benton’s The Lord is My Shepherd (1926), which depicts a deaf couple at their home in Martha’s Vineyard.
Art © T.H. Benton and R.P. Benton Testamentary Trusts/UMB Bank Trustee/Licensed by VAGA, New York, NY
Thomas Hart Benton, The Lord is My Shepherd
This painting is by Thomas Hart Benton and is quite unique. It possesses many layers, and every time I look at it I notice something new. I also have a personal connection to this piece.
First, look at the couple’s hands…They are weathered by hard work. Notice the couple’s ears. The painting portrays only the right ear of the wife and only the left ear of the husband. Their ears are a focal point of the painting. Notice that while the couple is silent, the wife’s eyes are focused on her husband’s lips. This is because the couple is deaf.
In Martha’s Vineyard, many of the people who lived there were deaf, and many individuals knew and used sign language. This couple is one of them. So perhaps the artist’s purpose in emphasizing the large, prominent hands could be a reflection of America’s value in hard work. Or perhaps it is a symbol of the couple’s deafness and use of their hands to communicate via sign language.
Perhaps the ears are turned out to the viewer in representation of the couple deafness.
It is also interesting to notice the wall plaque behind the couple, which says “The Lord is My Shepherd”. Yet we can only see the words, “The Lord is h-e-r-d”. It makes you wonder what the artist was trying to say?
Does he mean the Lord is heard?
Is the couple somehow closer to the Lord because they are missing one sense? Are they less evil, so to speak? Or is it just coincidental that this part of the plaque is blocked from view?
There are so many layers to this painting… Every time you look at it you notice something new.
I’m Lauren Ridloff. Thank-you for watching.