Homer's `on the Spot' Renderings the Cape Ann Historical Museum Displays 75 Early Lithographs Composed When the Artist Summered in the Area

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WINSLOW Homer's panoramic lithograph of Abraham Lincoln's 1861 inauguration carries with it an immediacy that gives it a contemporary ring. At the bottom of the work, which is on exhibit at the Cape Ann Historical Museum here, a statement reads, "from a drawing made on the spot."

Here is the equivalent of today's journalistic exclamation of an "exclusive photo" of a person or celebrity, or perhaps a breaking story "on the spot" from Bosnia or Rwanda. Or even an artist's courtroom sketch.

But in the late-19th century, the distance from event to journalistic deadline was often a woodcut or lithograph away, no small amount of time even for a skilled artist assigned to render events as they happened.

Homer (1836-1910), who went from woodcuts and lithographs to become the first American watercolorist of renown, retained the immediacy found in his early works. And the impetus for it - as much as origins are truly known - can be seen in this exhibition.

"Winslow Homer, Illustrator: Gloucester Summers Remembered," contains 75 mostly sentimental but exquisitely rendered woodcuts and lithographs done for journals of the day such as Harper's Weekly, Ballou's, and Appleton's Journal. In all, he created an estimated 1,400 woodcut engravings.

The exhibit also includes etchings, a chromo (color) lithograph, and selected illustrations from poetry and children's books.

While the industrial machine of America was flexing its muscles, Homer, a New Englander and a bit of a loner, drew subject matter that could only be classified as the forerunner of Norman Rockwell's work. Here are sunny glimpses of children at the Gloucester seashore where Homer spent two summers, of barefoot boys playing snap the whip, of dandified men in top hats on windy days in cities, of slim-waisted women in hoop skirts or frumpy bathing suits, all anonymously American, all drawn for mass appeal. Throughout his life, contemporary America was Homer's major interest.

Homer's Civil War drawings here are less of battles and more of the camp life of the common soldier. Here and there he looks at the rougher side of life: beggars going through trash piles in Boston, immigrants arriving in America, and working-class families at the beach.

Homer began his drawing career at 19 as an apprentice for two years at a Boston lithographic company. It was drone work, a treadmill existence. …