Of Thought And Reason


The largest stretch canvas painting in America is on display in Big Rapids, Michigan. At one time “Of Thought and Reason”, by artist Robert L. Barnum, was the largest stretch canvas painting in the world. This work of is 130 feet long and 10 feet high equaling 1300 square feet. It took Mr. Barnum 2 years to finish the painting. Just as remarkable as the size of the canvas is the scope of the subject matter. The painting is a visual parable of how knowledge has evolved or the history of learning. There is no other message or meaning intended beyond that. The artist leaves it to the observers to take away what they will.


painting of thought and reason

The painting employs dozens of images to chronicle the discovery and development of knowledge through the ages. The story is told in a sort of chronological order from left to right. The beginning shows a female figure and then a cave scene with people sitting around that all important discovery, fire. More images continue across the canvas including religious symbols, a blind muse, a pen indicating the power of writing, children at play representing discovery. Progress continues along the canvas with images of war, mechanical inventions like the car and the whole thing ends with a depiction of that most improbable of machines, the computer. The very last image at the extreme right is another woman, but this one is much different from the female figure at the beginning of the painting. It is difficult to photograph this painting since it is mounted a curved wall and is 130 feet long. So, the only way to really study the story that is being told is to go there and spend some time in reflection.