An Introduction to Eric Sloane, the Agrarian Author and Artist

The works of Eric Sloane are nothing short of an American treasure. His love for early American history and the customs and values of our ancestors, make Sloane a rare gem in a field of stones. His books should be part of every homeschool library. Let me tell you about this man and some of his greatest books and quotes.

On February 27th of 1905, Everard Jean Hinrichs was born in New York. Much of his childhood was spent with his neighbor, a noted sign painter and type designer named Frederick W. Goudy. This would be part of what inspired Hinrichs love for art and painting. He eventually attended the Art Students League of New York, and changed his name because teachers George Luks and John French Sloan told him that young students should always paint under an assumed name, so that early inferior works would not be attached to them. He took the name Eric from the middle letters of America and Sloane from his mentor’s name. This was the birth of “Eric Sloane”.

Sloane ran away from home at the age of 14 and worked painting signs across the country. Jobs included painting Red Man chewing tobacco advertisements on barns. He eventually returned to New York and later to New Milford, Connecticut, where he began painting rustic landscapes in the tradition of the Hudson River School. Over his painting career he produced over 15,000 paintings. Although Sloane’s paintings are wonderful, his greatest contribution to society was his hand illustrated agrarian themed books.

Sloane loved early American history. He also loved rural architecture, tools, and weather lore. Sloane sensed that something was wrong with modern ways and values and he truly did appreciate the culture of early America. Over his lifetime he would write 38 books covering these topics. Sloane’s books were unique in that he hand illustrated each one and chapter titles were hand done as well. One of Sloane’s most famous books, The Diary of an Early American Boy, was the result of Sloane going to a library sale in rural Connecticut. This is where he purchased the original hand written diary of Noah Blake which was written in 1805. Sloane took this diary, his knowledge of history, and his illistrator’s pen; and recreated the story of Noah Blake like no one else could. Sloane was a collector of old books and old tools and often purchased them at estate sales and such. As a lifelong admirer, I almost felt like Eric was looking down on me from above with a twinkle in his eye; the day I found an old original hardcover edition of Sesons of America Past at a yard sale for $0.25. When I got home I opened it up and found that it was an autographed copy. It is one of my most prized possessions.

A few Eric Sloane books you should read…

A Reverence for Wood
An Age of Barns: An Illustrated Review of Classic Barn Styles and Construction
Once Upon a Time: The Way America Was
Eric Sloane’s Weather Book
A Museum of Early American Tools
The Seasons of America Past
Diary of an Early American Boy: Noah Blake 1805
Look at the Sky and Tell the Weather
Our Vanishing Landscape
Do’s and Don’ts of Yesteryear: A Treasury of Early American Folk Wisdom
Eric Sloane’s America
The Spirits of ’76.
American Barns and Covered Bridges

Some favorite quotes from Sloane’s books…

“Farm life offers the complete satisfaction of knowing that each day’s work has been truly productive, a joy scarce in present times. Yet strangely enough, the early American farmer’s greatest satisfaction came not from his daily chores, but in his ability to make provisions for the future and an awareness of his part in fashioning the nation to come. He equipped his home with far heavier foundations than were necessary. He built his barn to last for centuries and he laid a rail fence to survive ten generations. He built stone walls that have lasted so long that they are now a permanent part of the landscape. None of these things are done now, nor do we often consider doing them.”
~Eric Sloane, Our Vanishing Landscape

“Today men work hoping to amass a fortune; if they are successful they can retire and admire their pocket books. But once upon a time when a homesteader was too old to work, he could remember the land when he first found it and look out over the fields and stone walls, the barns and all the things that were a result of his labor, and feel true satisfaction of life’s enjoyment.”
~ Eric Sloane, Once Upon a Time

“In the city if access to food or heat ceases for only a few hours or days, there is chaos, and we might think that God has not been as good a provider as we had thought; but cities were made by man, not designed by the Creator. In rural country where wood is always available and wind and water are plentiful, and food can be grown and stored for emergencies, you begin to realize how well nature had provided for man. Once upon a time America was aware of God’s providence but today in the metropolis, God’s providence is not as evident and we easily overlook it.”
~ Eric Sloane. Once Upon a Time, the way America was.

“Vacations from work used to be seasonal affairs but now they are spread out for the benefit of the worker. The old time farmer had only one day of rest but now there is usually a Saturday added to the workless weekend. That makes a hundred and four days of rest, leaving two hundred and thirteen days for work. But no– there are about twenty religious and patriotic holidays and that leaves only a hundred and eighty three days (less than half the year). And there is still a vacation expected. The old time farmer who had to milk and do daily chores every day of the year would have a hard time believing a work year could be about one hundred and fifty days.”

In 1985, at the age of 80, Sloane had finished his memoir; Eighty: An American Souvenir . While walking to a luncheon being held in his honor, he dropped dead of a heart attack. The epitaph he choose for his stone was “God Knows I Tried”. He is buried at the Eric Sloane Museum, where you can see his personal collection of woodworking tools and other relics of Americana.

One of Sloane’s barns. This wood burned version was sent to me by a podcast listener who knew I loved everything Sloane. It is a great example of the kinds of illustrations that fill the pages of his little books.

If you would like to learn more details about Eric Sloane’s life and some of his most influential books, you might want to listen to this 2013 episode of the Christian Farm and Homestead Show (now the North Country Farmer Show). I cover a lot of little know information.


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