Westmoreland Exhibit Recalls a Similar Era in Our Nation's Past

By Shaw, Kurt | Tribune-Review/Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, February 21, 2010 | Go to article overview

Westmoreland Exhibit Recalls a Similar Era in Our Nation's Past


Shaw, Kurt, Tribune-Review/Pittsburgh Tribune-Review


Despite the poverty and misfortune that encompassed the Great Depression, it was a stimulating time for America's artists. For starters, under President Roosevelt's New Deal, they were legitimized as workers. Countrywide, a cultural search for a unique American identity was under way, which gave way to forms of expression that reflected regional interests. That meant artists everywhere were encouraged to reflect their surroundings, and the resultant canvases evoke emotional responses to the time in which they lived.

Currently, 40 of those paintings are featured in the Westmoreland Museum of American Art's new exhibit, "Concerning the 1930s in Art: Paintings from the Schoen Collection."

All from the private collection of Princeton-based collector Jason Schoen, the paintings offer visitors a chance to see this tumultuous era of the Great Depression, the Dust Bowl, and the raging war in Europe through the eyes of the artists at work then.

Emphasizing the importance of these paintings as a mirror to their time, Schoen says, "Today, the art world has changed. Many artists are multimedia artists, meaning they do photography, painting, printmaking, video. What is notable about the period is that they mastered a given craft, in this case it was painting."

Schoen has vigorously pursued his passion for collecting American art of the 1930s and 1940s for more than 25 years. A previous exhibit of works from his personal collection, "Coming Home, American Art 1930-1950," has been shown at seven museums in the South.

Works by well-known artists such as Charles Burchfield, John Steuart Curry, Raphael Soyer, Kenneth Hayes Miller, Doris Lee, Philip Evergood, Roy Hilton and William Gropper are included in the Westmoreland Museum exhibit, together with lesser-known artists Charles Bowling, Peppino Mangravite, James Chapin and Francis Criss, among others.

The paintings are divided into thematic groupings, including images of farms and factories, workers and families, entertainment and politics, and escapism.

Together, they represent a diversity of the styles that predominated including Social Realism, Regionalism, Surrealism, Magic Realism and Precisionism.

The art of this period was generally referred to as American Scene painting, and the term became the primary umbrella under which all of these stylistic approaches were categorized. …

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