Hitching Tree

B. R. Garvin, Hitching Tree (ca. 1970), Oil on canvas, 35 ½ [SGF1] ” x 47 ½”, Bequest of Janey Briscoe Marmion.

The featured piece by artist Barbra R. Garvin [SGF2] conveys the spirit of the holiday season. In this piece, Garvin illustrates a small adobe home and a Southwestern landscape covered in snow. At the heart of the painting are four saddled horses tied to a leafless tree that has, doubtlessly, been used as a hitching rail many times before. The scene is relatively subdued and consists mainly of cooler hues, punctuated by the yellow of the tree limbs and the richness of the horses’ coats. Warmer tones appear in a window, located almost at the center of the painting and nearly obscured by the trees.

This diminutive rectangle of warmth seems to mirror what the viewer sees with the horses, a gathering. We assume that, like that of the horses, the meeting inside the cozy home is peaceful and convivial. The low, warm tones in the window and primitive appearance of the scene suggest that the house is illuminated by a fire in the hearth and perhaps some candles or lamps; no other windows or doorways are illuminated, which gives the impression the indoor gathering is taking place in one room. The horses appear at ease, and the clouds depicted are high and sparse, suggesting that they do not contain snow and that no severe weather will disturb the party within or the horses without.

While the artist is not explicit about the time period of this piece or whether any holiday motif is intended, it certainly captures the closeness of the season. Particularly within the context of 2020, the painting takes on a certain magic. The trails in the snow leading up to the “hitching tree” all come from different angles. Upon close inspection, the viewer can see distinct differences in the saddles, indicating a varying in the regionality of the riders. One assumes that the group within the adobe house may be close-knit friends who have gathered for the first time in a while to spend the winter holidays together. While those of us outside Garvin’s work wait and work to stay safe during this time, we look forward to opportunities to gather again and spend the season with those close to us.