American Regionalist artist Thomas Hart Benton adapted this print from his mural Politics, Farming and Law in Missouri, which is located in the State Capitol in Jefferson City. Benton believed in creating a uniquely American art that represented the country’s heartland. His paintings and lithographs record common scenes from the lives of working Americans.
In this organic, rhythmic composition all parts of the farmstead -- a mule-powered sorghum mill, out-buildings, workers and animals -- relate to the whole. As Thomas Craven wrote of Benton in 1934, “the form that he has developed is almost a perfect equivalent of the realities of American life. The tumultuous forces of America, its manifold dissonances, and its social anarchy, are perfectly expressed in the restless counterplay of his forms.”
John deMartelly’s print is representative of his 1930s and 1940s Regionalist work. Epitomized in the art of Thomas Hart Benton, Grant Wood and John Steuart Curry, this style recorded small-town and rural American life with nostalgic reverence. DeMartelly taught at Michigan State University from 1943 to 1979.
With a kiln behind him, a brickyard worker takes a break as he gazes across the lush, unending fields. While teaching in Kansas City, Missouri, deMartelly visited local brickyards “to watch the workers who were all black men. They were just fantastic in the way they handled the brick and tiles.” The lithograph also recalls the fertile land at a time when parts of the Midwest were reduced to dust bowls and further devastated by the Great Depression.
Stevan Dohanos’ depiction of a farmer is typical of the Regionalist art movement’s rural subject matter, as well as its general treatment of the figure and the land. Here the farmer’s close-up, rather severe and gaunt image reflects the widespread hardships endured in middle and rural America in the midst of the Great Depression of the 1930s.
Dohanos painted murals in 1936 under the WPA’s Federal Art Project and later was a founding faculty member of the Famous Artists School of Westport, Connecticut. In the 1940s and 50s, his paintings of slices of American life graced more than 100 covers of The Saturday Evening Post.
Johnny Appleseed is a nearly forgotten character in American history. Born in 1774 as John Chapman, he planted his first apple seeds in 1797. He had with him only what he needed and, as the story goes, was shoeless. Walking between the Allegheny and Mississippi Rivers, he planted thousands of apple trees before he died in 1845. Here Johnny Appleseed is a bearded, barefoot old man who reads while walking. The pack animal carries a load of saplings to be planted.
Karl Knaths’ semi-abstract paintings were calm and grounded at a time when this was rare and refreshing. In 1919, he joined other modernist radicals at the Provincetown Art Association in the battle against traditional painting.
Marion Post Wolcott had a lifelong interest in social issues. Teaching in a private school during the early 1930s further engendered her concerns about social inequality. Photography for her started off as a hobby, but Paul Strand and Ralph Steiner quickly recommended her to the FSA where she was assigned to record specifically positive images of its programs.
“Biscuit Lady” reveals a world in the details. You don’t need to see the woman’s face to know her. Her strong back, girth and simply-styled dress, the way she kneads the dough, and the functional kitchen speak of a sympathetic and straightforward person.