Cross Country: The Power of Place in American Art, 1915–1950
February 12–May 7, 2017
Cross Country: The Power of Place in American Art, 1915–1950 gathers works by artists who took inspiration from their surroundings, especially outside the city. Nearly 200 objects show the development of a distinctly American point of view in the beginning of the twentieth century.
Opening Day at Talladega College, 1942Opening Day at Talladega College, 1942
Oil on canvas
Collection of Talladega College, Talladega, Alabama
Commemorating the 1867 founding of Talladega College, Opening Day at Talladega College shows former slaves registering, bringing with them farm animals and other goods as tuition payment. This painting is part of a series of six murals illustrating the journey from slavery to freedom.
Hale Woodruff painted the series to hang in the college’s new library, knowing that from this vantage point the viewer would see across campus to Swayne Hall, Talladega College’s founding building constructed by slaves before the Civil War. Woodruff, who established the first art school in the South open to African Americans, here brings together past and present to celebrate change and opportunity.
Man with Brush, 1940Man with Brush, 1940
Frederick C. Flemister
Oil on canvas
Clark Atlanta University Art Museum
Atlanta artist Frederick Flemister quotes from Renaissance portrait conventions in this self-portrait. The young, African American artist takes a seat where other great artists had before him. He sits purposefully, gazing directly toward the viewer; an idealized landscape stretches out behind him. As if to challenge stereotypes, Flemister makes no reference to the cotton fields and sharecroppers’ shacks that populated the Southern landscape. Brush at the ready and loaded with paint, the artist confronts the empty canvas before him, his story yet to be painted.
Untitled [Man with Pipe], ca. 1939–1942Untitled [Man with Pipe], ca. 1939–1942
Poster paint and graphite on cardboard
High Museum of Art, Atlanta, Purchase with funds from Mrs. Lindsey Hopkins Jr., Edith G. and Philip A. Rhodes, and the Members Guild, 1982.99
Bill Traylor, who began his life enslaved on a rural plantation, never received artistic training, but his evocative portrayals of life in Montgomery, Alabama has captured the imaginations of many. In a chance encounter, fellow artist Charles Shannon noticed Traylor sitting on Monroe Street in Montgomery, drawing people and animals as they passed by. Shannon was moved by the pictures and became a great supporter and proponent of Traylor’s work. Traylor often began his compositions with geometric shapes and perfected them with restrained lines and bold pops of color. He preferred to draw on old cardboard even after Shannon began bringing him art supplies.
Ella Watson, American Gothic, Washington, D.C., 1942Ella Watson, American Gothic, Washington, D.C., 1942
Ella Watson, American Gothic, Washington, D.C., 1942
Gelatin silver print
High Museum of Art, Atlanta, Gift of Gloria and Paul Sternberg, 1999.154.1
Courtesy of and copyright The Gordon Parks Foundation
Gordon Parks arrived in Washington, D.C., intending to photograph middle-class subjects from the city’s black communities. After experiencing Washington’s deeply segregated culture firsthand, Parks turned his attention to the struggles of poor, working-class blacks.
In his reinterpretation of Grant Wood’s American Gothic, Parks posed custodian Ella Watson resolutely before an American flag, flanked by her tools. The injustices Watson faced every day stand in stark contrast to the wholesome values of Wood’s Midwestern farmers and the opportunities represented by the flag.
Staircase, Doylestown, 1925Staircase, Doylestown, 1925
Oil on canvas
Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, Gift of the Joseph H. Hirshhorn Foundation, 1971
Charles Sheeler took inspiration for his painting Staircase, Doylestown from an 18th century farmhouse he had rented for several years in Doylestown, Pennsylvannia. He likely worked from starkly lit, black-and-white photographs he had taken—studies in shapes and patterns, solids and voids. This cool, analytical view of the winding corner stairs—a common feature in colonial-era Pennsylvania German architecture—exalts the simple and efficient design of a bygone era alongside the smooth geometry of the modern.
The Drowning, 1936The Drowning, 1936
Newell Convers Wyeth
Oil on canvas
Brandywine River Museum of Art, Bequest of Carolyn Wyeth, 1996
N. C. Wyeth made this painting in response to the death of sixteen-year-old Douglas Anderson, a friend of the Wyeths’ in Port Clyde, Maine. Anderson disappeared while lobstering in September 1935. Months later, Anderson’s father and younger brother Walt found the boy’s body floating in the water off Horse Point, a rocky, tree-strewn landscape. Wyeth’s stormy sea kicks up sharp-edged waves tossing the empty boat, which itself played a painful role in the tragedy: Anderson was not in the sturdy craft Wyeth pictured but in a much flimsier skiff.
Bringing in the Maple Sugar, 1939Bringing in the Maple Sugar, 1939
Grandma Moses (Anna Mary Robertson Moses)
Oil on canvas
Private Collection, courtesy of Galerie St. Etienne, New York
© 1946 (renewed 1974) Grandma Moses Properties Co., New York
The snow-covered New England countryside appears untouched by time in the paintings of Anna Mary “Grandma” Robertson Moses. In this painting, she stages a quintessential northeastern ritual: bringing in buckets of maple sap to process into maple syrup. Grandma Moses was born in 1860 and she had firsthand experience with all kinds of agrarian practices and rituals like this. She often excluded the trappings of modern society, things like telephone poles and cars and railroads, to focus on the customs of the past. The human activity that Moses depicted in this work remains a treasured regional pastime.
Lake George—Autumn, 1922Lake George—Autumn, 1922
Oil on canvas
Collection of Jan T. and Marica Vilcek, Promised Gift to the Vilcek Foundation Collection
© Georgia O’Keeffe Museum / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York
In the 1920s, the shores of Lake George in Upstate New York provided Georgia O’Keeffe with a wholly different landscape than her New York City home. Here, O’Keeffe focused her attention westward, with the wine-tinted Adirondack Mountains dominating the upper portion of the canvas, allowing only a sliver of sky. The light that appears to glow from beyond the mountains provides an alluring detail. From this vantage point, the mass of trees, the lake, and the towering mountains all separate the viewer from that enticing light.
Spring Turning, 1946Spring Turning, 1946
Oil on canvas
Courtesy of D. Wigmore Fine Arts, New York
© Joan Nichols Lenhart
Dale Nichols grew up in David City, Nebraska, where he formed an intimate connection to barns and rural life—his most enduring subjects. The brief two months he spent in Chicago catapulted Nichols to a career in art, first in illustration and commercial art and then in fine art. The classic red barn seen in Spring Turning was a reminiscence of his childhood (before the Depression or Dust Bowl) that he painted while living in a vastly different environment in the Sabino Canyon of Arizona.
Appraisal, 1931Appraisal, 1931
Oil on composition board
Dubuque Museum of Art, on long-term loan from the Carnegie-Stout Public Library, Acquired from the Lull Art Fund
Grant Wood is perhaps best known for the often-witty depictions of regular folk from his native rural Midwest. In Appraisal, a simple economic transaction signals the differences between city and country life. As two women bargain over a chicken, the farmer cracks a knowing smile, unable to contain her pleasure at the prospect of a lucrative sale. Her adversary is seen only in profile. Though dressed in fine furs, the city woman’s expensive clothes seem somehow drab by comparison to the exquisite chicken. With her beaded purse clutched tightly at her side, the city woman reveals her pampered state through her evident discomfort in driving a bargain.
Teton Range and Snake River (Grand Teton National Park, Wyoming, 1942), 1942, printed 1974Teton Range and Snake River (Grand Teton National Park, Wyoming, 1942), 1942, printed 1974
Gelatin silver print
High Museum of Art, Atlanta, Purchase in honor of Mrs. C. Peter Siegenthaler, President of the Members Guild, 1974–1975, 74.107
In 1932, photographers including Ansel Adams, Edward Weston, and Imogen Cunningham formed Group f/64 in San Francisco. These artists worked diligently to elevate photography as a fine art and to articulate what was distinct about the medium. Using the smallest aperture of a camera, f/64, they created sharply focused images with rich tonalities. These photographers found fitting subjects for their aesthetic goals in the grand open spaces of the Western landscape, the botanicals that thrive in the arid climate, and the peculiar textures of the rural West.
Red Butte with Mountain Men, 1935Red Butte with Mountain Men, 1935
Oil on canvas
Permanent Collection of Booth Western Art Museum, Cartersville, Georgia
The “artist-cowboy” is how most in Maynard Dixon’s hometown of San Francisco knew him. His wife, the photographer Dorothea Lange, recalled wandering together through the “endless and timeless” landscapes of the Southwest, where Dixon spent the greater part of every year.
Red Butte with Mountain Men brings Dixon’s experience of this vast scenery to a city audience. He painted this commission for a San Francisco diner, the Kit Carson Cafe. Subtly visible along the composition’s bottom edge is a silhouette of the nineteenth-century mountain man and his posse, trailing across the same, unchanged landscapes of Dixon’s contemporary West.
During the first half of the twentieth century, the relationship between American artists and their native land changed dramatically. While travel and study in Europe remained a priority, many American artists also felt newly compelled by their national surroundings. Life in the big city, with its bustling crowds and towering skyscrapers, is widely recognized as a key influence, but this exhibition reveals how American artists also canvassed the country, seeking inspiration from wide-open spaces and small-town culture across the United States.
Cross Country brings together works by more than 80 artists who channeled the power of American places outside of city limits between 1915 and 1950. Shortly after World War I, the U.S. population became increasingly urban rather than rural, but where artists lived did not necessarily dictate where they worked. In addition to developments in infrastructure and industry—such as the automobile and the interstate system—grants, commissions, the lure of newly established art schools and artist colonies, and various Depression-era government agencies stimulated artists to explore far-flung locales.
Arranged geographically, Cross Country presents nearly 200 artworks, including more than 70 from the High’s permanent collection. Three of the High Museum’s curatorial departments collaborated on this exhibition to represent the true inclusivity of American art during this period of changing national identity. The exhibition features not only trained painters who worked outside of major American cities but also photographers and self-taught artists who were earning major recognition from the American art world for the first time in history. Featured artists include N. C. Wyeth, Andrew Wyeth, Georgia O’Keeffe, Grant Wood, Thomas Hart Benton, Jacob Lawrence, Grandma Moses, Hale Woodruff, Bill Traylor, Ansel Adams, Dorothea Lange, Alfred Stieglitz, and Peter Sekaer, among many others.
This exhibition was organized by Brandywine River Museum of Art in collaboration with the High Museum of Art, Atlanta.
This exhibition is made possible by
Premier Exhibition Series Partner
Exhibition Series Sponsor
Premier Exhibition Series Supporters
Sarah and Jim Kennedy
Anne Cox Chambers Foundation
The Antinori Foundation
Contributing Exhibition Series Supporters
James F. Kelly Charitable Trust
The Lubo Fund
Margot and Danny McCaul
Joyce and Henry Schwob
Generous support is also provided by
Anne Cox Chambers Exhibition Fund
Alfred and Adele Davis Exhibition Endowment Fund
Forward Arts Foundation Exhibition Endowment Fund
John H. and Wilhelmina D. Harland Exhibition Endowment Fund
Dorothy Smith Hopkins Exhibition Endowment Fund
Howell Exhibition Fund
Helen S. Lanier Endowment Fund
Barbara Stewart Exhibition Fund
Eleanor McDonald Storza Exhibition Endowment Fund