Charles H. MacNider Museum

Mason City, IA



America Seen: People and Place

The MacNider Art Museum is pleased to present America Seen: People and Place, an exhibition of approximately eighty paintings, prints, and photographs, exploring aspects of American pictorial art from the late 1920s through the early 1950s. On exhibit through March 14, 1999, America Seen: People and Place, records the social and political turmoil of the 1920s and 1930s, when America was seeking to discover itself in a world which had been dominated by events, both political and aesthetic, in Europe.

This special exhibition focuses on those visual artists who were trying to define the historical, political, and cultural traits of America's transition from isolation to world domination. It includes visual reference to both world wars, the Great Depression, the New Deal, the growth of the American city and nostalgia for American rural life. Among the renowned artists in the exhibit are Grant Wood, Norman Rockwell, John Steuart Curry, Thomas Hart Benton, Charles Sheeler, Alexander Brook, Edward Hopper, Dorothea Lange, Walker Evans and Isabel Bishop.

The decline of the rural population base and the industrialization of agriculture gave rise to popular and sometimes sentimental images of the rural South and the Midwest by the "Regionalists," a group of artists spearheaded by Thomas Hart Benton, Grant Wood, and John Steuart Curry. These three artists, along with many others, embraced the values and traditions of fading rural America. Paralleling the rural revivalists, were urban artists such as Reginald Marsh and Isabel Bishop, who captured the labor and leisure of daily city life. The "Urban Regionalists" connected the benign routine of city life with the vivacity and emotional content that was neither romantic or contrived.

In response to the Depression, federally subsidized art projects were developed through programs such as the Works Progress Administration (WPA), to assist artists and to cultivate and broaden the visual arts in American culture. The multitude of these arts projects ranged from public building murals to posters and photographic documentaries, creating a wide variety of art works illustrating the images of American life. The WPA Projects expanded the diversity of artistic resources by emphasizing the inclusion of regional artists, many of whom lacked the notoriety and financial success of better established artists located in urban areas. The opportunities for such artists were greatly enhanced by the support of Federal art projects.

Norman Rockwell's extraordinarily fine example of art as illustration, The County Agricultural Agent, conveys a sentimental view of "the good life," which becomes in its own distinct way a fabricated sort of portrait reality. By the early 1950s, much of this type of representational art had lost its vitality and was eclipsed by the advent of Abstract Expressionism, which firmly placed America, that is to say New York, at the center of the advanced art scene within the international art circles. Fifty years later it seems appropriate to reconsider and assess the American Scene artists' individual contributions to this era in the development of the cultural and visual art history of our nation.

This exhibit has been organized for national tour by the Sheldon Memorial Art Gallery of the University of Nebraska at Lincoln. With the assistance of Smith Kramer, Inc., a fine arts service company located in Kansas City, Missouri, the exhibition will travel to fifteen American museums over the next three years.

The Charles H. MacNider Museum is located at 303 2nd Street, SE, Mason City, IA.

From top to bottom: Thomas Hart Benton, Lonesome Road, 1927, tempera on masonite, 25 x 34 inches; Ogden Fleissner, Morning Mass, 1928, oil on canvas, 42 x 54 inches; O. Louis Guglielmi, Phoenix, 1935, oil on canvas, 30 x 25 inches; Grant Wood, Arnold Comes of Age, 1930, oil on board, 26 3/4 x 23 inches; John Steuart Curry, Roadmenders' Camp, 1929, oil on canvas, 40 1/4 x 52 1/4 inches; Louis Bouche, McSorley's, 1940, oil on canvas, 41 x 50 inches.


Read more about the Charles H. MacNider Museum 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. 9/20/10

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