Sowing presents a simple narrative of farm life suggestive of Johnson’s upbringing in South Carolina, but the brilliant palette disguises elements of tension. The plow the man grips is stained with red streaks. The woman’s hand is tightly clenched as she holds the seed above the soil before releasing it. A ghost moon in the sky hints at things both visible and unseen.


  • Title: Sowing
  • Creator: William H. Johnson
  • Date Created: 1940
  • Physical Dimensions: 38 1/2 x 45 3/4 in. (97.8 x 116.2 cm)
  • Credit Line: Smithsonian American Art Museum, Gift of the Harmon Foundation
  • Artist: Born Florence, SC 1901 – Died Central Islip, NY 1970
  • Medium: oil on burlap

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