Millions of people were out of work; kids were going to bed hungry; families were displaced as parents moved to seek work; people were losing their homes.
Those were the days of the Great Depression. Sound familiar?
Deb Wiedel, the Columbus Museum’s assistant curator of exhibitions, thinks so. She compares scenes depicted from the 1930s in “The American Scene on Paper: Prints and Drawings from the Schoen Collection,” to today.
The exhibit features mostly unknown artists’ work during the Great Depression and the years after when America was in a time of great economic hardship, Wiedel said.
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Wiedel said Jason Schoen began collecting “American Scene” paintings and prints in the late 1970s. Born and reared in Los Angeles, Schoen, an art consultant, is considered to be a pioneer in collecting these works. Very few commercial galleries sold — much less specialized — in “American Scene” art then.
Schoen began to study in museums and learned even more as he collected these works. He concentrated on acquiring these works by artists, mostly unknown, at the height of their artistic skills.
The “American Scene” was important because these were works done by mostly American-born artists. The artists worked in two “schools.” One was regionalism in which artists went to specific parts of the country and drew what they saw. The other was social realism, which depicted the social injustices of the era.
Most of the “American Scene” pieces were created between 1928 and 1943.
There are 101 works in this exhibit.
These artists were important because you can see the beginnings of cubism, abstract impressionism and surrealism, Wiedel said.
“They (the artists) used different ways of expressing themselves,” she said. Many of the artists attended the Art Students League in New York City, where they experimented with many techniques.
Dox Thrash, an African-American artist, born in Griffin, Ga., invented a printing technique called carborundum.
It was unusual for a black man to be given the opportunity to do that in the early part of the 20th century, Wiedel said.
“There are three-four-five of them (African-American artists) in this show,” Wiedel said. “They were given equal opportunity to experiment with their art in the 1930s.”
There are a few prints by famous artists, Wiedel said. Paul Cadmus’ “The Fleet’s In!” depicts sailors, prostitutes and a homosexual couple.
“It’s very raw, graphic in nature,” Wiedel said. “It has all of the lewdness that you would expect to see. It’s very real.”
Another fairly well-known artist is Mahoni Young, the grandson of Church of Latter Day Saints founder Brigham Young. Much of his work is in dioramas, Wiedel said.
A special exhibit within the gallery will show how various types of printmaking are created.