The Woman at the Well

The Woman at the Well

A woman, a Samaritan, came to draw water. Jesus said, “Would you give me a drink of water?” (His disciples had gone to the village to buy food for lunch.)

 The Samaritan woman, taken aback, asked, “How come you, a Jew, are asking me, a Samaritan woman, for a drink?” (Jews in those days wouldn’t be caught dead talking to Samaritans.)

 Jesus answered, “If you knew the generosity of God and who I am, you would be asking me for a drink, and I would give you fresh, living water.”                                                                                                      John 4:7-10 (The Message)

I bought this painting (a reproduction), titled The Woman at the Well, when my wife and I visited the Barnes Museum in Philadelphia several years ago. This painting almost jumped off the wall at me. When I learned the history of the artist, Horace Pippin, it made sense to me why I was drawn to it. Let me tell you his story in brief.

Horace Pippin was an African-American who was a part of the “Harlem Hell Fighters” in World War I. The U.S Army was segregated in those days, so he was part of an all African-American unit which ended up spending more time in combat than any other American unit in that war.

Pippin was injured in the war, shot by a German sniper in the right shoulder. After the injury, he was only able to paint by holding one arm under the other for support as he painted. Perhaps this led to his simple, yet powerful style.

Pippin was keenly aware of racial struggles- he lived in the midst of them. Several of his paintings reflect his commentary on discrimination, and the injustice of the times he lived through. 

This painting spoke to me from afar as we walked through the museum. I was struck first by the garments of both Jesus and the woman. They are very bright white, and of equal tone. The figures are also are very nearly equal in height. Both of these rendering techniques are a symbol of our equality in the eyes of Jesus.

I also noted that the woman was kind of thick around her waist, in contrast to her regularly sized face. Could she be pregnant?

Finally, there bis a red glow in the background, likely her city. This is the city to where she would return and become an evangelist of the man she had just met. Where other people saw her as a broken woman, Jesus saw her as an evangelist of good news.

I think Pippin captured something deep in this painting. He was a man familiar with inequality, and he was a man familiar with pain. To me, this comes out beautifully in his art.

I am not an art collector, nor do I know much about art. But I know when my soul is stirred by a piece of art, and this did it to me. I share it with you for your enjoyment. I think it is a great statement about the artist and his Savior.

Prayer: Thank you Father for the gift of art, and the power that can be drawn from it, Amen.

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