It’s another Labor Day here in America. Just another holiday for most, one that marks the end of summer and the transition into autumn. That’s what it was to me in my younger days. But it began as a way of honoring the contributions of the working class to our country’s growth and progress. From the fields and factories to the shipyards and mines, labor has been the backbone that held this country up. The idea of labor has taken on added meaning for me as I became more and more aware of the importance of it in our history as well as its relevance to my own well-being and identity.
You see, I consider myself a working man, probably before I consider myself an artist. I learned in my early days working in a factory and toiling as a laborer in other jobs the value of being able to put my head down and focus on the task at hand. I learned that effort was the one variable I could control and that effort often overcame my deficiencies. I might not be as strong or smart or as talented as the next guy but I firmly believed that I could always outwork him. Effort brought out the most in whatever limited attributes I might possess. I believe that any success I have achieved as an artist can be directly tied to these lessons learned with a shovel in hand and the sweat running down.
This value of labor is often portrayed in my work, most often in the form of rows of fields. This piece above, from my early Exiles series, always reminds me of the tenant farmers in the Dust Bowl-era photos of Walker Evans in the famous James Agee book, Let Us Now Praise Famous Men. Labor and effort was all they knew.
I could go on and on here about the value of the labor movement in America and the great debt we owe to those ancestors who fought and died for the rights and protective regulations which we take for granted today. Too many of us don’t realize how difficult the battle was for these rights and how quickly they could erode without continued effort and vigilance. So, enjoy your holiday but remember what it means.