Fort Wayne Museum of Art is hosting an exhibit titled “Winslow Homer: From Poetry to Fiction, the Engraved Works.” It will be open through Sept. 23.
“We’ve done a pretty heavy roster of ultra-contemporary [works] this year,” Charles Shepard, president and CEO of FWMoA, said. “[I thought,] let’s rein that in a bit and bring in something classic.”
In the hunt for the right exhibit, Shepard searched for works that had good public name recognition, and that offered a touch of thoughtful contemplation to the viewer.
“This is an interesting time in American history,” he explained. “Everyone has a strong sense of sentimentality, when things were simpler, better.”
According to the news release for this display, pieces in this exhibit are engravings from the 1850s through the 1870s, which makes them a good match for these criteria.
Shepard was careful to point out that Homer was not romanticizing life in his illustrations: he was actually “reporting” what things were like at that time. Shepard gave this example: while photographers were on the war front during the Civil War, illustrators were also on the front lines, capturing images as well.
As explained in the press information, newspapers did not start publishing photographs until 1873. Instead, illustrations were printed in publications like magazines and newspapers during the Civil War.
Homer was one of those combat illustrators, and his piece “The Army of the Potomac: a Sharpshooter on Picket Duty” is one that was made during the Civil War.
“People in art school today wouldn’t even think of (going to the combat front) unless they were photographers,” Shepard pointed out.
Homer, however, was an artist who worked in many venues. The art pieces in the FWMoA display, according to the press release, were completed when the artist was between 19 and 39 years old. During that time, he was an illustrator for the magazines Harper’s Weekly and Every Saturday. In 1875, Homer quit being a freelance illustrator to concentrate on his work as a painter.
“Some of (Homer’s) paintings are so well known and beautifully colored that we might not be sensitive to the fact that he did (a wide variety of) work,” Shepard explained.
Engravings in the display are from the first third of Homer’s career, a time when he was “getting his strength, stretching his wings,” as Shepard put it.
Homer illustrated everything from poetry and literature to rural life, children at play and seaside scenes. Of special note is Homer’s piece, “Snap the Whip,” which will be on display at the FWMoA. The illustration of this image appeared in Harper’s Weekly in September of 1873.
Inspired by time Homer spent in the Catskill Mountains, this engraving depicts children playing in front of a rural schoolhouse. The schoolhouse is still standing today, and has been converted into a private home. Photos of the Catskill location and home will also be on display in this exhibit.
When asked if engravings are easier to transport than other works of art, Shepard said that they are. Paintings, for example, can be very large and can have elaborate and heavy frames. Moving each large work is too much for a human crew, so a tractor is brought in.
Unfortunately, this isn’t always good for the painting. Shepard recalled a time when he was working at the University of Maine and he saw a forklift accidentally spear a painting it was trying to lift. (This was the only time Shepard ever saw such a thing happen, he said.)
Engravings, on the other hand, are smaller and do not have frames that are so hard to lift. They are also of more uniform size — Shepard estimated that some Homer pieces are about 9×14 inches. Art of this size can be moved by human hands.
Homer works that will be on display at the FWMoA will include wood engravings, watercolors and drawings. The variety of Homer’s subject material on display here will be a quick glimpse of how America appeared during the last half of the nineteenth century.
“It’s a quiet but powerful show that will pull the viewer in,” Shepard said.
If you go
What: Winslow Homer: from Poetry to Fiction, the Engraved Works
Where: Fort Wayne Museum of Art, 311 E. Main Street
When: July 28 – September 23
Free to members of the FWMoA
$6 students (Pre-K – College)
$6 seniors 65+
Free general admission every Thursday 5-8 p.m.
Information: click on //www.fwmoa.org/Visit or call (260) 422-6467