“Is he off from school today or are he and the little burro full-time at the school of life?”
As kids get settled into their new school year, we’re seeing and hearing them out and about, playing at recess, getting on school buses, and out walking the dog with their families. This boy looks about eight or nine, and he is walking his donkey, who is carrying water cans. Is he off from school today or are he and the little burro full-time at the school of life?
Hulings painted Boy Leading Water Burro in 1981. It’s almost, but not quite a square, which gives a cozy feel to the frame. Set in Mexico, the strong, directional sunlight gives a high-contrast look to the painting and adds a bright spark to these tough little guys. If you look carefully at the top and right, you’ll see a series of amber highlights almost burning through the frame, as if the scene is lit from the inside. The sun hits the boy’s smiling face, and as we might expect from Hulings, highlights how shaggy the donkey is. The boy has rips in the knees of his pants, and this was from a time before every kid in the continent was buying them that way. The kid and burro are going uphill in-step, both with a right leg lifted, shadows connecting.
Interestingly, Mexico had higher education very early, with Royal and Pontifical University of Mexico founded in 1551—about 80 years before Harvard. These days almost all Mexican children go to elementary school but there’s a smaller percentage that finish secondary school, which is in part due to circumstances that lead many students to have to work to help take care of their families. Mexico maintains a national literacy rate of 94.5%, so chances are high that this boy would have been able to read and write regardless of whether he was a schoolboy or a budding entrepreneur.
These hardworking guys are featured in A Gallery of Paintings by Clark Hulings .