Editor's note: The Tarble Arts Center provided source material to Resource Library for the following article or essay. If you have questions or comments regarding the source material, please contact the Tarble Arts Center directly through either this phone number or web address:

Burl Ives and the American Scene

through September 24, 2006


A newly acquired portrait of Burl Ives is the centerpiece of the exhibition, Burl Ives and the American Scene, now at the Tarble Arts Center, Eastern Illinois University. The exhibition continues through September 24, 2006.

Titled The Hymn Singer, the Ives lithograph is by the noted Regionalist artist Thomas Hart Benton. The lithograph is the first acquisition made possible by the Mildred Grush Timmons American Scene/Regionalist Endowment of the EIU Foundation. The exhibition is presented in conjunction with the Embarras Valley Film Festival and Symposium, Burl Ives and American Film of the 1950s, to be held in September.


(above: THOMAS HART BENTON (1889-1975), Birthplace: Neosho, Missouri, The Hymn Singer, 1950, (also titled The Minstrel), Lithograph, edition of 500. Circulated by Twayne Publishers, New York City. Mildred Grush Timmons American Scene/Regionalist Endowment. Tarble Arts Center Permanent Collection)


During the 1930s and 1940s artists, musicians, and writers from throughout the country sought to define what was "American" about the arts in America. Like Burl Ives, who traveled the country gathering and singing folk songs, many of the visual artists represented in the Tarble exhibition traveled around the country, gathering images and ideas in their search for this "Americanism" in the arts.

This movement in the arts was stimulated by the Great Depression relief programs that grew out of Franklin Roosevelt's New Deal). A directive of the federal relief art programs was to "depict the 'American Scene' and foster the development of a new and definitively American Art." The realistic art we now term "American Scene" became the unofficial style of the various Federal easel painting and mural programs

Grouped in the American Scene are the Regionalists, like Benton and Grant Wood, and Social Realists such as William Gropper and Raphael Soyer. all represented in the Tarble exhibition. Other artists in the exhibition include John Steuart Curry, Samuel Margolies, Charles Turzak, and works produced under the auspices of the WPA. All of the works are from the Tarble collection except for four prints on loan from Ruth Hoeberman and Richard Sylvia. In addition to lithographs are etchings, woodcuts, and watercolors.

Never accepted by many art critics, the American Scene generally fell from favor during the Cold War when Social Realism became the official style of "state" art in the U.S.S.R.

As artists, the lives of Ives and Benton have interesting parallels. Both were influenced by moving around America during the Great Depression-Ives collecting folk songs and Benton making sketches. Both were Midwesterners whose art was significantly colored by this shared heritage. But both spent much time in New York City and were affected by those experiences artistically and professionally as well. And both broke with early associates over politics and saw their art fall from favor. When President Lyndon B. Johnson sent congratulations to Benton on turning 75, Benton quipped, "It's the kind of thing that comes to you when you outlive your critics."

The Embarrass film festival on Ives is scheduled for September 20-23. A symposium on Ives' folk music will be presented at the Tarble on the evening of September 22. The festival is a joint effort of the Coles County Arts Council and the EIU College of Arts & Humanities, with a variety of sponsors, including the Tarble Arts Center.


(above: WILLIAM GROPPER (1897-1977), Birthplace: New York, New York, Good and Evil (?), c. 1942, Lithograph, edition unknown. Acquired from Associated American Artists. Tarble Arts Center Permanent Collection)

Editor's note: RL readers may also enjoy:

Selected articles mentioning Thomas Hart Benton:

More resources on the Internet for Thomas Hart Benton (1899-1975):

If you are interested in "American Scene" art of the 1930s and 40s you may enjoy the WPA Period Print Collection Directory from the University of Montana. For American genre art, see these subject sections:

Read more articles and essays concerning this institutional source by visiting the sub-index page for the Tarble Arts Center at Eastern Illinois University in Resource Library.

Visit the Table of Contents for Resource Library for thousands of articles and essays on American art.

© Copyright 2006 Traditional Fine Arts Organization, Inc., an Arizona nonprofit corporation. All rights reserved.