Stark University Center Galleries

Texas A&M University

College Station, TX



America at Work: 1920 - 1940

January 13 - February 27, 2000


A new exhibition that illustrates the American ideal that dignity and respect are gained through hard work will be on display through February 27, 2000 at the J. Wayne Stark University Center Galleries at Texas A&M University.

Featuring over 35 watercolors, etchings and lithographs, "America at Work: 1920-1940" focuses on the 20 years that followed the end of World War I - a time that was marked by industrialization, urban development, and advancements in communication, transportation, and mass production techniques. Artists focused on the individual, perhaps as a response to the growing anonymity of the workplace. (left: Grant Wood (1892-1942), Tree Planting Group, 1937, lithograph, 8 7/16 x 10 15/16 inches, 1990.132)

Images of stevedores, construction workers, and farmers reaffirmed the national belief in the rugged individual. During the depression that dominated the 1930s, artists were employed by federal New Deal programs to visualize the accomplishments of the American worker. Like their earlier counterparts, these images took their subjects largely from the working class of laborers, factory workers, and farm hands whose enduring spirit enabled them to face and overcome the challenges of the era.

This exhibition is from the Syracuse University Art Collection and includes artwork by artists including Berenice Abbott, Will Barnet, Thomas Hart Benton, Reginald Marsh, Grant Wood, and others. Grant Wood is highlighted below.


About Grant Wood (1892-1942)

Grant Wood adopted the precise realism of 15th-century northern European artists, but his native Iowa provided the artist with his subject matter. "American Gothic" depicts a farmer and his spinster daughter posing before their house, whose gabled window and tracery, in the American Gothic style, inspired the painting's title. In fact, the models were the painter's sister and their dentist. Wood was accused of creating in this work a satire on the intolerance and rigidity that the insular nature of rural life can produce; he denied the accusation. American Gothic is an image that epitomizes the Puritan ethic and virtues that he believed dignified the Midwestern character.

Grant Wood was one of the noted triumvirate of American Regionalist painters who first attained prominence during the years of the Great Depression. Wood, like the other two members, Thomas Hart Benton and John Steuart Curry, was born in the Midwest, and both his art and his personal philosophy reflected the values and traditions of this area, whose way of life, in the eyes of many, appeared to be seriously threatened by the industrial and technological advancements of the early twentieth century.

Wood voiced his philosophy in an essay titled "Revolt Against the City," written and published in 1935. Although best known for such engaging paintings as American Gothic (1930, The Art Institute of Chicago), Daughters of Revolution (1932, Cincinnati Art Museum), and Parson Weem's Fable (1939, Happy Y and John B. Turner, 11 Collection), some of Wood's most significant and technically accomplished works are a series of lithographs commissioned by the Associated American Artists in New York toward the end of the 1930s. Even more important are the handsome preparatory pencil drawings which he executed for those lithographs.

Wood's drawing technique is precise. While pencil is the sole medium, the variations in value and texture which he is able to achieve are remarkable. But the most noteworthy aspect of this work is the underlying theme, which appears in almost every work by Grant Wood. Wood was dedicated to the natural environment, especially to the open space of the Midwest, where the interdependent relationship of man and nature was strikingly obvious as an ever-present reality. Indeed, in his essay "Revolt Against the City," Wood went so far as to declare unapologetically, "To the East, which is not in a position to produce its own food, the Middle West today looks a haven of security.

Wood also found particular delight in the rhythm cycle of the seasons and therefore he perpetuated in his art the ancient mystical relationship between the appropriate labors of the four seasons and the seasonal changes themselves. It is understandable that Wood chose Spring as the theme of this work, since Spring is seen as a time of rebirth, a time when the farmer's toil contributes to the renewal and the beginning of a new cycle of life. It is of interest that the last painting which Wood completed before his death was titled Spring in Town (1941, The Sheldon Swope Art Museum, Terre Haute, Ind.).

Read more about the Stark University Center Galleries in Resource Library Magazine

For further biographical information on selected artists cited above please see America's Distinguished Artists, a national registry of historic artists.

rev. 12/27/10

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