Pearls of Wisdom
Childhood-In the first painting, Childhood, all the important story elements of the series are introduced: the voyager, the angel, the river, and the expressive landscape. An infant is safely ensconced in a boat guided by an angel. The landscape is lush; everything is calm and basking in warm sunshine, reflecting the innocence and joy of childhood. The boat glides out of a dark, craggy cave which Cole himself described as "emblematic of our earthly origin, and the mysterious Past." The river is smooth and narrow, symbolizing the sheltered experience of childhood. The figurehead on the prow holds an hourglass representing time.
Youth-The second painting, Youth, shows the same rich, green landscape, but here the view widens as does the voyager's experience. Now the youth grabs the tiller firmly as the angel watches and waves from the shore, allowing him to take control. The boy's enthusiasm and energy is evident in his forward-thrusting pose and billowing clothes. In the distance, a ghostly castle hovers in the sky, a white and shimmering beacon that represents the ambitions and dreams of man. To the youth, the calm river seems to lead straight to the castle, but at the far right of the painting one can just glimpse the river as it becomes rough, choppy, and full of rocks.
Manhood-In the next painting, Manhood, the youth has grown into an adult and now faces the trials of life. The boat is damaged and the tiller is gone. The river has become a terrible rush of white water with menacing rocks, dangerous whirlpools, and surging currents. The warm sunlight of youth has been clouded over with dark and stormy skies and torrential rains. The trees have become wind-beaten, gnarled, leafless trunks. The fresh grass is gone, replaced by hard and unforgiving rock. In the boat, the man no longer displays confidence or even control. The angel appears high in the sky, still watching over the man, who does not see the angel. Man must rely on his faith that the angel is there to help him.
Old Age-The final painting, Old Age, is an image of death. The man has grown old; he has survived the trials of life. The waters have calmed; the river flows into the waters of eternity. The figurehead and hourglass are missing from the battered boat; the withered old voyager has reached the end of earthly time. In the distance, angels are descending from heaven, while the guardian angel hovers close, gesturing toward the others. The man is once again joyous with the knowledge that faith has sustained him through life. The landscape is practically gone, just a few rough rocks represent the edge of the earthly world, and dark water stretches onward.
Nuggets of Dirt
Cory Ian Shafer