God, Goats, and Pickup Trucks
Maurice Schmidt’s Visions of Texas
Herdsmen are we, both we and thy fathers
2012, Oil on Linen
This common agricultural scene is one of the artist’s favorite paintings since it was such a common scene in Texas. When he saw the men and their loaded pickup, he was struck with the feeling of how timeless the situation was. The setting is a hot summer as is evident by the bright blue sky and brownish burnt-out grass. Two men, farmers from their hats, and pickup take time out to chat while the goat waits for transport to market. The men could be talking about anything, but most probably some common theme to farmers such as Texas’s changing weather or how the crops are growing.
For Maurice, this scene filled him with a sense of history spiraling back across the years to biblical times. This iconic view of herdsmen, their animals, and their wagons may have evolved but it still creates a sense of peaceful pursuits and reflects the symbols of a world long ago, echoing through time. The Israelites, before enslavement, were pastoral people and herdsmen of goats and cattle. This concept is specified in Genesis when Joseph’s brothers go before the Pharoah to ask for help during the years of drought.
The men are shepherds, they raise livestock and they have brought their flocks and herds and all that they own. And he (Joseph) chose five of his brothers and presented them before Pharoah. “What is your occupation?” Pharaoh asked Joseph’s brothers. “Your servants are shepherds,” they replied, “both we and our fathers.” (Genesis 46:34)
The goat in this painting is a common sight in the South Texas community since it is a favored meat in Mexican-American communities. However, from a Jewish perspective of the agricultural community of ancient times, the animal served as a highly desired beast. They provided sustenance, their hair was woven into curtains and tent covers, and their skin became clothing. Even a ram’s horn is turned into a shofar to call the people to worship. Finally, two goats were part of the Yom Kippur services in the Temple. The priests sacrificed in service of God, and sent the other into the wilderness to symbolically bore away the sins of the community, hence the origination of “scapegoat”.