The Artist Who Drew a Peaceable Kingdom
A LOP-EARED rabbit, four large cats, a dog with hunting instincts, several mice, a ferret, and a few fish live together at our house, tolerating each other with more or less good nature. I like to think of it as a "peaceable kingdom" where creatures with different natures and temperaments can thrive together side-by-side without fighting. My little children are big teenagers now, but we have always had lots of animals around, and we have always tried to build the "peaceable kingdom" at our house.Skip to next paragraph
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Of course, our peaceable kingdom is made up of domesticated animals. They had to be taught to live in harmony with each other, but domesticated animals tend to be easy to persuade. Over the piano in the living room is a picture of another kind of "Peaceable Kingdom." In this picture, wild animals rest side-by-side with farm animals. A lion romps beside a lamb; a leopard beside a baby goat; a bear, a wolf, a cow, and a ram nestle side-by-side; and a little child peeks out among them. The child is not afra id. Off in the distance, behind the animals, are a group of English Quakers lead by William Penn making a treaty with native Americans to settle on the Indians' land, which was later named Pennsylvania (Penn-sylvania meaning Penn's Woods).
The picture is by the self-taught artist Edward Hicks, a Quaker preacher of Pennsylvania (1780-1849), who, among other things, painted coaches and signs to support his wife and children. He also painted a good many pictures including historical subjects, landscapes, and Noah's arks. But his favorite subject was the "peaceable kingdom," which he painted over 100 times.
To understand why this subject appealed so much to him, it helps to know something about his life. Edward had a difficult life, though it was also a good one. He was raised in a good Quaker house by a lady he called Mother, since his own mother had died and his father could not care for him. But though his foster mother was kind, his foster father showed no interest in him.
When he was young, he was apprenticed to a coachmaker. There in that shop he became just "one of the boys," a bit wild. But when he grew up, he began to have deep, searching thoughts about religion and his own place in the world. He remembered the teachings of his foster mother and turned back to the faith of his early youth, joined the Society of Friends (Quakers), married a young woman he'd known since childhood, and set about changing his life.
Very soon it was clear to him that he was meant to be a preacher, and in the manner of his people, he stood up in "meeting" (the Quaker religious service) often and preached spontaneously. Over the years he became renowned for his preaching ability among the Friends.
But he was also something of a controversial figure, too. Sometimes his temper got the best of him, and he said unreasonable things, even while preaching. He made a lot of enemies. He sometimes referred to people he thought were on the wrong side of an argument as bears or lions or wolves. Some of the peaceable kingdom paintings may have represented a longing for reconciliation - the Friends learning to be friends again. (At that time there were disagreements over religious issues among the Quakers.)
But the peaceable kingdom paintings are about many things. The wild animals and the domestic animals living peacefully together is an idea Hicks took from the Bible, from the book of Isaiah: "The wolf also shall dwell with the lamb, and the leopard shall lie down with the kid; and the calf and the young lion and the fatling together; and a little child shall lead them."