As an artist, I have lately been experimenting with a limited palette of oil paints using only three colors — blue, red and yellow — and white.
While most artists use quite a few colors, some of the finest artists use a limited palette, perhaps a warm and a cool version each of blue, red, and yellow. When thinking of a beautiful painting, more is not necessarily better.
A limited palette harmonizes the painting as well. As a minister, it got me to thinking about life — and the fact that each of our lives can be seen as a painting, using either many or only a few colors.
I began to think about people I have known who took a limited palette and painted a beautiful painting with their life. Some folks have few colors on their palette due to physical disabilities; some due to circumstances like racial prejudice. Person after person came marching through my mind, and then I realized that I only have room to mention one person to you. I chose George Washington Carver.
Carver was born on Moses Carver’s farm in Missouri in1864, as a slave. When he was an infant, he and his mother and sister were kidnapped by a band of slave raiders. Sold in Kentucky, they were rescued by a neighbor of Moses Carver, but the neighbor only succeeded in finding George, whom he purchased by trading one of Moses’ finest horses.
Carver grew up knowing little about his mother or his father, who had died just before George was born. Moses Carver and his wife, Susan, raised young George as their own and taught him how to read and write.
When he was 11, Carver left the farm to attend an all-black school in the nearby town of Neosho but he moved on to Kansas two years later, drifting from one town to another. He graduated from high school at 16, and applied to Highland College in Kansas — only to be accepted, then rejected, when the administration learned he was black.
He applied to the Iowa State Agricultural School to study botany. In 1894, Carver became the first African American to earn a bachelor’s of science degree. He joined the Tuskegee Institute’s faculty in Alabama, and spent his career there. He was an inventor, bringing such ideas as crop rotation to the farmers.
But that brought too great a yield of cotton, so Carver developed more than 300 products from the lowly peanut. He once said that he asked God to show him the secrets of agriculture, but God said the secret of the peanut was enough for him. He was known as the “Peanut Man.”
In the last two decades of his life, he traveled the South to promote racial harmony, and he traveled to India to discuss nutrition in developing nations with Gandhi. Carver died on Jan. 5, 1943, at Tuskegee Institute and was buried next to Booker T. Washington on the Tuskegee Institute grounds. Soon after, President Roosevelt signed legislation for Carver to receive his own monument, an honor previously only granted to Presidents George Washington and Abraham Lincoln.
Truly, Carver painted a magnificent painting of his life with a limited palette. But then, as a man of deep faith, I am sure he kept in mind what Paul says in 2 Corinthians 12:10: “Therefore I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in distresses, in persecutions, in difficulties, in behalf of Christ; for when I am weak, then I am strong.”