Gardener's Gloves and Shears was probably painted in 1937, the year Hartley returned to Maine after a long absence. Stung by criticism that his work was not truly American in character because he had spent so much time abroad, Hartley was, at this point in his career, making a conscious effort to evoke the feel of his native land. The subject of Gardener's Gloves and Shears calls to mind an informal existence in the earthy outdoors, a subject that counters his image as derivative and too sophisticated.
Despite its appearance at first glance as an uncomplicated composition, Gardener's Gloves and Shears reveals the artist's ability to create a dynamic, expressive image simply and directly. The enlarged forms of the gloves and shears, set off against an indistinct background, fill the picture plane; one of the shears' tips extends slightly beyond the frame, giving the still life a slightly unstable air. The garden implements are painted with vigorous brushstrokes in contrasting light and dark colors, a technique that adds drama and vitality to the image. The gloves seem to have a life of their own, as if they had been worn recently.
Hartley's treatment of the subject is what most attracted Duncan Phillips, who had admired this painting in the 1938 exhibition of Hartley's Maine paintings. With this show Hartley became regarded, by Phillips as well as others, as not only a sincerely American painter but also an artist of great originality.