Breaking Home Ties

Discuss an accomplishment, event, or realization that sparked a period of personal growth and a new understanding of yourself or others.

The painting is enormous. Its carved golden frame hangs squarely in the center of a muted red wall in the Philadelphia Museum of Art. I lean in and read the information plaque to the right: Breaking Home Ties by Thomas Hovenden. Stepping back, I crane my neck to take in the unassuming scene above me.

A young man and his mother stand in the center of a simple farmhouse kitchen with wooden spindle chairs, a fireplace, and a dishware cabinet. Two men with hats and suitcases are heading out the door. The boy’s gaze is fixed above his mother’s head. His eyes hold a steadfast determination and his hand grips a hat, a sign of his fated departure. The mother has both hands resting on his tall shoulders. Her hair is gray, her face filled with sad, but loving acceptance. In the less illuminated background, the rest of the family, an old woman; two girls; and a dog, somberly watch the bittersweet goodbye. The realism, shadows, and muted colors capture the essence of a rural culture while conveying a serious tone.

At the time of the painting’s release, a majority of Americans were transitioning from a rural farm life to an urban city life. The scene depicted in the painting was typical for many American families during the country’s Second...

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