12473 - 20170312 - Winslow Homer engravings exhibition at the Butler Institute of American Art - Youngstown, OH - 22.01.2017-12.03.2017

Winslow Homer, Snap the Whip, 1873.
An exhibition of two-hundred thirty celebrated prints by American icon Winslow Homer at the Butler Institute’s Trumbull location opening Sunday, January 22, 2017. Winslow Homer, arguably the most popular artist and illustrator of nineteenth century America, and one of the most important American artists of all time comes to the Butler Institute of American Art. Winslow Homer From Poetry to Fiction, includes 230 wood engravings on loan from Contemporary and Modern Print Exhibitions, Laguna Niguel, California, has been in the planning for more than twenty years beginning in1995 when curator Reilly Rhodes, then director of the National Art Museum of Sport took notice of the immense range of material that was available to museums and collectors through searching the inventory of rare book and print shops in New York, Philadelphia, San Francisco and Washington, D.C. The initiative to collect Homer’s engravings was first brought to the attention of Mr. Rhodes through the advice and recommendation of D. Dodge Thompson, Chief of Exhibitions at the National Gallery of Art in
Washington who was at the time advising the National Art Museum of Sport on acquisition possibilities for building a permanent collection of sporting art.

“The opportunity for museums to showcase these works on paper offers enormous storytelling potential that people of all ages can appreciate and enjoy,” said Rhodes. “Homer is easy to understand and to connect with. The content is straightforward and masterfully expressed. There was never any doubt, even in his youth, that Homer was a highly gifted and talented artist among his peers.”

In his lifetime, Homer did for painting what Walt Whitman did for poetry, and what Brahams did for music. He redefined the rules in terms of style, subject matter and message. The warmth and charm with which he interpreted American experiences has since, enchanted generation after generation. His best-known early paintings and illustrations including Snap-the-Whip, The Noon Recess, Gathering Berries, and Waiting for a Bite are among the engravings on view at the Butler Institute’s Trumbull location through March 12, 2017.

The exhibition Winslow Homer From Poetry to Fiction provides a rare opportunity to view this extensive collection of engravings produced by Homer between the ages of nineteen and thirty-nine, from 1855 to 1875—one third of the artist’s creative career. Three of his early works include music sheet covers (lithographs) that he produced as an apprentice artists working in Boston. At the age of nineteen he left Boston for New York to work as a free-lance artists making wood engravings for the pictorial press such as Harper’s Weekly and Ballou’s Pictorial. Homer also focused attention on book illustrations for poets and writers, an area that is seldom discussed or mentioned in exhibitions of Homer’s art.

The exhibition is presented in a manner that shows Homer’s themes and subjects inclusive of seaside activities, city and rural life moving from field to factory prior to the outbreak of the Civil War. The groupings of prints on view are arranged into sub-themed categories such as Leisure Time, The Sporting Life, Holidays, The War Years, Seaside Views, America’s Youth, Rural America, The Changing Role of Women, Fashion and Style.

The Civil War changed everything for Homer and for America. The innocence of America was also gone and people were turning away from the problems of reconstruction in favor of building wealth and expanding freedoms, pursuing personal interest and taking advantage of the opportunities that American industry began to find with a revised industrial revolution. America was expanding to the west, and the influx of immigration brought in a renewed workforce that was necessary to support labor needs. The civil war left a huge void in terms of lost lives and immigrants were welcomed and needed. With more than 600,000 lives lost in the war, women were left with task that men performed in the pre-war era. Women began to work in factories, teach school and even farm when no one else was left to perform the work. Homer produced several illustrations showing women at work on the farms and working in the textile mills. America’s youth was not spared, there were chores and jobs for children even in the mills that Homer illustrates in his post-war engravings.

Perhaps the most striking feature of this exhibition is Homer’s images of America’s youth—children at play and actively engaging each other in explorations that stimulated an excitement and perhaps above all, a hope for the future. He produced the majority of these images in the mid-1870s, though one can see the continuing interest in much of his earlier work. Some of the best and most important examples include Snap-the-Whip, The Noon Recess, The Nooning, The Last Days of Harvest, and The Morning Bell, all made in 1873, and all relating to his school subjects as well as Ulster County, New York.

Many of Homer’s late period wood engravings and watercolors from the 1870s reveal hints of the painter to come in the late 19th and early 20th century while Impressionism in Europe and the Hudson River scenes in American painting was still flourishing. Homer, though keenly aware of other art movements, was never associated with or part of any art movement. He directed his attention and focus on his own ideas and to his credit and benefit, spent the majority of his creative work to drawing, making his first serious watercolors and oil paintings when he was almost thirty years of age. Historians note that Homer was largely self-taught, though his mother was an amateur, yet skilled watercolorist

As popular as Homer has remained through the years, it is surprising to many to learn that it was not until the early 1950s that his work as an illustrator was rediscovered or taken seriously as a collectable art form. The influential American art historian Lloyd Goodrich wrote extensively about Homer and the importance of his wood engravings as a valued art form that had been overlooked by scholars, museum curators and art collectors. Goodrich organized an important exhibition of Homer’s engravings for the Whitney Museum of Art in New York. Soon after, several American art and history museums began to aggressively collect these prints, realizing that Homer’s engravings were printed mainly on newsprint and illustrated in some of the most popular weekly newspapers and journals published between 1857 to the mid-1870s. Some were published in rare limited edition books through the 1880s.

Extensive collections of Homer's engravings are today included in such distinguished museums as The Smithsonian Museum of American Art, National Gallery of Art, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, The Brooklyn Museum of Art, the New York Public Library, the Addison Gallery of American Art at Phillips Academy, the Sterling and Francine Clark Art Institute, The Butler Institute of American Art, the Art Institute of Chicago, The Los Angeles County Museum of Art, the Cleveland Museum of Art , and several others including university and college museum collections.

Homer's prints provide valuable insight into his artistic achievements and a view of the society and times in which he lived. As social commentary, Homer's illustrations are recognized by historians and scholars as being important visual documents, that accurately depicted scenes of a young nation that was evolving into an influential and industrial world power.