Hay is for Horses

Just as the Lost Art Press Horse Garage has been nearing completion, this happened.



Hay field on a gray late-autumn day


Whenever my sister or I said “Hey” as children, at least within earshot of our local grandma (the other grandma lived far away, in New York), we were gently nudged in a more genteel direction. “Hay is for horses,” she’d say.

But European art suggests that hay and gentility have not always been at odds.

Twice this week I heard from Suzanne Ellison (a.k.a. Lost Art Press’s saucyindexer). Unbeknownst to me, The Saucy One had turned some images of the hayrake table I made for my book on English Arts & Crafts furniture (forthcoming in June 2018 from Popular Woodworking) into a framework for a collage of women using traditional hay rakes.

Hayrake collage jpg

“I thought if a woman builds a Hayrake Table than she should probably have a collage combining her table and women using a hay rake (apparently, men scythed and women raked and fluffed),” wrote Suzanne.

Judging by their attire, most of these women are peasants (as were my grandma’s forebears), but a couple look far more refined. Please tell me that Rosina (center row, right) was not really going to rake and fluff hay in high heels and a ribboned bonnet. And what about that corseted lady in the middle of the top row?

I’m grateful to Suzanne for applying her erudition in the cause of fun. And I chuckled when I read how she addressed me in the last message: “Hey Nancy.”–Nancy R. Hiller, author of Making Things Work


Suzanne has provided the following Information about the images:

Top row (from the left): Jean-Francois Millet, a watercolor from a mid-Victorian** friendship book, Winslow Homer.

Middle left: Peter Breugel.  Middle right: Rosina is dated 12 May 1794 by Laurie & Whittle, London (no other info), but much earlier than the mid-Vic watercolor in the top row.

Bottom row: Camille Pissarro, Maud Mullen by John Gast, after J.G. Brown, ‘Sweet Memories’ a postcard from around 1905, Leon-Augustin Lhermitte.

Center portion: butterfly from your table, a Shaker hay rake from Hancock Shaker Village in Massachusetts, hayrake from an original table (your photo), hayrake from your table.

The frame, as you know, is constructed from your table.

**Here is a link to the mid-Victorian watercolor in the top row, it is for sale (£28.00):



About nrhiller

cabinetmaker and author
This entry was posted in Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink.

15 Responses to Hay is for Horses

  1. Richard Mahler says:

    In the 18th and 19th centuries it became cyclically popular for genteel women to ape their “inferiors” by costuming as peasant girls and farm maidens – but the fabrics and details were fine materials and the bonnets and caps were far more stylish than any working woman would ever have, and as you noticed, these ladies were not going to wear clogs or clumsy working boots!


    • nrhiller says:

      Thanks for this intriguing addendum, Richard. Do you think this was their version of women who dress up in scanty nurses’ uniforms today?


      • Richard Mahler says:

        I am not sure what was going on in their minds, but in Victorian times when the industrialization of life, factories, trains, with accompanying pollution and general ugliness, as well as a huge population of former agrarians filling the factories and cities, an idealization of everything rustic and simpler became popular in art, music, literature and fashion. Of course it was a sham and the Victorians, Americans included, get a bad rap for what we now think of as excessive sentimentalizing of the hard facts of life in general, but it was their way of dealing with a massive cultural transformation. Usually it is the less affluent who attempt to ape the fashions of the rich as best they can, but even royalty were guilty of reversing that at times. One of my collecting obsessions is antique photography from 1840 to 1920 which demanded a library of books on fashions so that I could identify the period and dates of photos for writing on my antique photo Timebinder.net blog site. There is nothing much stranger in life than what people decide to wear, or what they think makes them look smart or attractive! Sometimes, very occasionally, we get it right – and in my opinion the Victorian gentlemen surely did.


        • Bruce Lee says:

          Its actually traceable back to at least Pre-Revolutionary France, IIRC Marie Antoinette and her ladies were into it, and it wasn’t new then – silly French, just naming all their Kings Louis and then adding a number.:-P

          Liked by 1 person

        • nrhiller says:

          Interesting. I am aware of the romanticization of the countryside and rural culture in the 19th century and discuss it at length in my forthcoming book on English Arts & Crafts furniture (specifically in connection with the hayrake table, but also with some craftspersons’ move from cities to more rural areas). But I hadn’t thought about what you call the aping of fashions in general. I will look up your site. Thanks!


  2. Jacob Eickstead says:

    It’s great to hear people who grew up in with the same sayings. Whenever I said “hey”, My grandmother would always say, “Hay is for horses, straw is cheaper, grass is free; if you live on a farm you get all three.” She grew up in Indiana and her family was from NY. It may have been a regional saying. I’ve never heard a Texan say it, just my grandmother.


  3. Noel Hayward says:

    I am 77 years old and my mother (long dead..bless her heart) said the same to me. Now I live in Sweden and “Hej” (pronounced the same as “Hay”) is the most commonest form of greeting. I now have to think twice when coming to an “English” speaking country.


  4. colsdave says:

    I’m confused – I thought men were rakes over which women sighed and fluffed.


  5. tsstahl says:

    “men scythed and women raked and fluffed” My new favorite quote of the month.


  6. jpbturbo says:

    “hay is for horses, aren’t you glad you’re a cow“ says my coworker.

    Liked by 1 person

Comments are closed.