I ask a friendly security guard if I could take photos. "Yes but no flash," she says. "What about a tripod with no flash? "She phones her boss. I would have to clear a time and date, security personnel would have to be with me while I shoot. I pull out my pen and begin to jot this info in my notebook. She hands me a stubby yellow pencil and grins. "No pens," she says, "a lot harder to remove ink than pencil." Such is the state of security-minded museums these days.
This building will close down on September 8. A partial collection of art from the Sterling and Francine Clark Art Institute will be transferred to the nearby stone Hill Center at the end of September. Now under construction, the new Sterling and Francine Clark Art Institute is scheduled to open in July 2014. With lots of glass and reflective pools it promises to be quite special. The present structure will be home to the administrative offices and education center.
The exhibit "Winslow Homer: Making Art, Making History"at the Sterling and Francine Art Institute is making history itself. Nearly 1000 people each Saturday and Sunday have crowded through the exhibit all summer. The George Inness exhibit on the same floor draws mainly on the coattails of Mr. Homer.
Nearly every casual museum junkie is familiar with Winslow Homer's iconic oil paintings inspired by the coast of Maine. This exhibit gives equal weight to Winslow Homer's less trumpeted skills in other medums. The show includes 11 paintings, 18 watercolors, and dozens of wood engravings, etchings, lithographs, and drawings.To put it plainly, the range of Homer's abilities are astonishing. He had talent, ambition, and the energy to promote himself. Once his career got rolling, Katie, bar the door.
The special exhibition gallery on the second floor has been partitioned into three sections. The walls have been painted a rich shade of brown, green, and cranberry to set the sections apart visually and give more oomph to Homer's art. The first room features a wall with row after row of engravings displayed shoulder to shoulder, text introducing the exhibit, and three sheet music covers designed by Homer as engravings.
The second room, "Wood Engravings As Fine Art," is a doozy. An entire wall, floor to ceiling, displays wood engravings labeled "Economics and Class," "Courtship," "Music and Dancing," "The Civil War,""Thanksgiving," "Leisure," "The Sea," "Women," "Work," and "School".
The engravings leave no doubt that they should be considered fine art - and that Homer's sense of curiosity was deep. Most of the engravings were created in the 1860s and 1870s. Many of them are rich with exquisite detail and subtle shadings from grays to black to white ("Snap tThe Whip" 1873). The range of subject matter may have been whipped up for commercial reasons but there was nothing mechanical about the renderings and each conveys a sense of movement, subtle or ebullient.
When he was charmed by how an engraving turned out, he'd make an oil painting or a watercolor version. The same might happen in reverse with an oil painting or watercolor. Five of the seven engravings on display turn up as oil paintings or watercolors later in the show. The engravings are miniature optical short stories. When he made one he liked, he'd create one for a different audience.
An egrossing wall covered with Homer's wood engravings;
School themes; "Snap the Whip" 1873. You can sense movement, subtle or dynamic, in every one of these engravings, from the kid's energetic play to the schoolteacher's daydreaming out the window and her one student's pensive mood.
Homer was fascinated with the human dimension of the war, was more interested in the behind the lines aspects - (L) "Civil War Bivouac Fire On the Potomac" 1861 captures the sense of downtime between battles, card playing, Negros dancing and fiddling, pipe smoking soldiers, rows of tents against the night sky, a portrait of war behind the front lines.
(R) "Winter Quarters Inside Hunt" 1863 soldiers sleep, play cards, argue, sleep, utility items and backpacks in view "Thanksgiving in Camp" every edging invites you to look close always surprises with tiny details, a can on the ground, that you missed the first time around. You could lose an hour here finding surprises in each etching/engraving.
"Thanksgiving in Camp" every edging invites you to look close always surprises with tiny details, the differences in soldiers' attire and attitude, a can on the ground, that you missed the first time around. You could lose an hour here finding surprises in each etching/engraving. See the "click image to enlarge" button to see terrific image that shows even the tiniest of engraving marks.
No huge battle scenes for him, he wanted to show war in its personal dimension. "The Army of the Potomac - A Sharpshooter on Picket Duty" 1862 is a powerful statement that quietly expressed Homer's antipathy for these snipers, who were considered cold-blooded murderers even by many soldiers on the Union side.
From war to leisure, Homer took it all in.
"The Bridle Path" 1868 Homer's skill at contrasting colors, presenting delicate details that fix your gaze like an optical magnet, implied details in the foreground with less distinct but identifiable figures in the landscape background, expertly rendered hazy mountain in background, other riders above and below.
"The Last Goose at Yorktown" 1863 delicate brushstrokes, right down to the sunlight reflecting off the epaulets on the soldier's uniforms and the buckles on their boots.You can't fight too well if you're starved, Homer shows us the insane and occasional incongruity of war.
Oil paintings from private collections - the coast of Maine, halcyon scenes of the sea in repose, always a ship on the horizon"Saco Bay" 1896 ...coming or going?
The forbidding gray-green menacing rocky shore scene, "Summer Squall" 1904 with the lateen rigged fishing boat in the right corner with two fishermen, heeled hard over, thrashing its way home. The ominous rock outcroppings pummeled with spray in the foreground and mean lowering storm clouds add tension to the composition and multiply the power of the surf pounding onto the rocks. The implacable force of nature is a fact to be endured by these barely seen fisherman who eke out a living in often perilous seas.
"Undertow" 1888 One of Homer's best known oil paintings
Winslow Homer immersed himself in learning the process, then produced a handful of etchings between 1887 and 1889.
"Saved" 1889; "Eight Bells" 1887
The cranberry-colored walls are a fabulous background for four walls full of Winslow Homer watercolors.
My favorite – "Schooners At Anchor Key West" 1903 Here Homer is less concerned with detail but deftly suggests movement with his languid watercolor brush strokes, you can feel the moist air and a gentle breeze as the men in the rowboat approach the sloop. If you've never been to the Caribbean, this composition will take you there. If you've been there, the aquamarine color and sloops idly swinging at anchor will transport you there again.
"Beach Scene, Cullercoats" 1881 Homer executes great detail in the center then trails off into broader stokes in perimeters, the grouping of women in the center is mysterious, once again Homer draws your eye to where he wants to go and invites you to interpret what is going on.
"The Eagle Nest" 1902 an astonishing volume of detail top to bottom in a watercolor composition, a moment in time, full of movement and energy.
"Perils of the Sea" 1881, 1888. An example of Homer treating the same subject in different mediums. One oil color, one etching. You can feel the sense of grief and anxiety. Two women are the central focus, fisherman below them in their sou'wester oil hats, a small detail that tells a ton of information.
Winslow Homer's art elicits a response, a common occurence in this fabulous collection of beautifully presented work.
Photos by Paul A. Tamburello, Jr.