Artist Winslow Homer, three Trinity freshmen and the Duke University Museum of Art have something in common this spring.
For the first time in the University's history, an all-freshman staff has curated an exhibition at DUMA. "Labor and Leisure in the City, the Country, and at the Shore: The Wood Engravings of Winslow Homer," was completely curated and compiled by Trinity freshmen Jon Buono, Sheri Sauter and Michelle Belden under the supervision of Jill Meredith, associate curator of DUMA.
"The innovative project was established to introduce pre-major students to the first-hand study of artworks and curatorial activities at the Museum," Meredith said.
Winslow Homer is a renowned American artist, well-known for his paintings of rural childhood and life at the seashore. But before Homer established himself as a painter he earned his living by doing graphic illustrations for magazines from 1857 to 1888. Most of his prints were found in the periodicals Ballou's Pictorial Drawing Room Companion and Harper's Weekly.
DUMA acquired 185 of these wood engravings through a donation by Elizabeth Von Canon in 1974. Buono, Sauter and Belden chose their favorite prints to be part of the 30-print exhibit this spring. The exhibition is divided into three parts depicting life in the city, seashore and the country.
Each student picked one of these themes and devoted his or her time to selecting prints for display. The students then went back to the original texts of current events or fiction writing that Homer's prints illustrated. In the exhibit, the explanations accompanying each piece were written by the students from information in the original magazine articles and from background on Homer's life and artistic influences.
Buono has selected an array of prints combining the many different subject matters of Homer's pieces. In the stark urban prints, Homer wished to portray the harsh strain industrialization had put on the land. While the artist originally focused on upper-class living in large cities such as New York and Boston, he later created images of the plight of the working class. Homer presents with great detail the people and surroundings in different scenes such as ice skating rinks, street markets and crowded quarters.
Works such as "Skating in the Ladies' Skating Pond in the Central Park, New York," first displayed in Harper's, portray the wealth and glamour of Victorian New York. The elaborate dress and action of the skaters is highlighted by the shadowing and intricacy of his etching. The pleasurable pursuits in some of the prints stand in sharp contrast to the dirty, claustrophobic images the lower classes.
The next part of the exhibition leaves the crowded and bustling images of Homer's city scenes and instead deals with man's interaction with the sea. Again, Homer illustrates the gaiety of upper- class life with incredibly beautiful and energetic detail. While the city pieces depict pleasure and occupations separately, he combines both work and play in the seaside etchings. Belden's group of prints range from strolls on the beach to the jarring life of sailors at sea.
"Winter at Sea" contemplates the danger that arises when man challenges the raging ocean. This piece, originally shown in Harper's, depicts sailors desperately trying to control a flapping sail. Homer creates an active, torrential image of dark and light, giving the viewer an impending sense of doom.
The final part of the exhibition, compiled by Sauter, peacefully recreates Homer's childhood in the country. Homer was a naturalist wary of urbanization. Therefore, most of his country images idealize the laid-back attitude and the natural surroundings of rural living.
One of the liveliest images in the exhibit is the country scene "Snap the Wind" showing a line of barefoot children involved in a game. This Harper's print combines the purity of childhood in harmony with the beauty of nature. The figures of the children are elaborate, especially in the clothing.
This exhibit is not only entertaining with its varying images and dramatic scenes by Winslow Homer but is also wonderfully presented. Buono, Sauter and Bender demonstrate tremendous knowledge and dedication in their display.
"Labour and Leisure in the City, the Country, and the Shore," is part of the SoHo at Duke V series. It is at DUMA until May 29 and will then travel to Greenville Museum of Art and Guilford Art Gallery.
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