Our Good Earth: Rural Life and American Art
April 17–August 1, 2021
Since the nation’s founding, America’s national identity has been tied to rural life and the mythic figure of the humble yeoman farmer—a national icon credited with taming a vast nature. Even as the focus of American life drifted to the city from the farms, country ways remained a persistent subject of interest for artists.
Through a selection of prints, drawings and photographs from the High’s collection, this exhibition will explore the many ways in which Americans imagined and engaged with life beyond the city limits over the course of a century.
Works by artists ranging from Winslow Homer and Rhonda Nicholls in the nineteenth century to Thomas Hart Benton, Marion Greenwood, Clarence John Laughlin, Lewis Hine, and Andrew Wyeth in the twentieth century will offer various views of country life. The artworks also will foreground the diversity of the High’s collection to present a dynamic and varied picture of the complex and compelling story of the American pastoral.
This exhibition is organized by the High Museum of Art, Atlanta.
Winslow Homer, The Last Days of Harvest, 1873Winslow Homer, The Last Days of Harvest, 1873
The Last Days of Harvest, 1873
Woodcut on newspaper
Gift of John D. Hatch, 70.10
Thomas Hart Benton, Threshing, 1941Thomas Hart Benton, Threshing, 1941
Thomas Hart Benton
Lithograph on paper
Gift in memory of Alan R. Liederman from his children, 1991.84
Thomas Hart Benton’s wide popularity stemmed from his choice of enduring subject—the charms and challenges of American rural life—and the accessible realist style that he used to convey it. These prints are each based on paintings that were made available as lithographs at broadly affordable prices through the Associated American Artists organization. Though often celebratory of country life, Benton’s imagery alluded to harder times, as well, in works such as The Fence Mender and Prodigal Son, which transforms the biblical story of loss into a Depression-era drama.
Grant Wood, Fertility, 1939Grant Wood, Fertility, 1939
Lithograph on paper
Gift in memory of Alan R. Liederman from his children, 1991.95
Hard times often were not on display in Grant Wood’s orderly Midwestern farm scenes. Well-tended fields and tidy barns are consistent features of this Iowa artist’s pictures. In this suite of four prints, Wood makes subtle reference to his most celebrated painting, a stoic (if sarcastic) portrayal of a farmer and his wife, known as American Gothic (1930). The picture’s famous white farmhouse appears in the distance in Fertility. These prints, which Wood made separately over time, collectively celebrate the land’s fertile potential with fields ready to sow or yielding bountiful harvest.
Marion Greenwood, Mississippi Girl, 1945Marion Greenwood, Mississippi Girl, 1945
Mississippi Girl, 1945
Lithograph on paper
Purchase with funds from the Lawrence and Alfred Fox Foundation for the Ralph K. Uhry Collection, 1991.152
John S. de Martelly, Looking at the Sunshine, 1942John S. de Martelly, Looking at the Sunshine, 1942
John S. de Martelly
Looking at the Sunshine, 1942
Lithograph on paper
Gift of Carl and Marian Mullis, 1997.214
Dox Thrash, Georgia Cotton Crop, 1944–1945Dox Thrash, Georgia Cotton Crop, 1944–1945
Georgia Cotton Crop, 1944–1945
Carborundum mezzotint and etching on paper
Purchase with David C. Driskell African American Art Acquisition Fund, 2011.107
Dox Thrash was one of the few African American artists appointed to oversee a regional division for the Federal Art Project in the 1930s. He was instrumental in the development of a new printmaking process. More efficient and economical than traditional methods, his carborundum method produced a broader range of tonal qualities, allowing for the deep, rich blacks that lent his work an ethereal effect. In this picture of a rural farm scene, he intentionally obscures fine detail. The subject is, in fact, a memory of his youth and his family’s sharecropper farm near Griffin, Georgia.
Peter Sekaer, St. Clairesville, Ohio, 1936, printed ca. 1936Peter Sekaer, St. Clairesville, Ohio, 1936, printed ca. 1936
American, born Denmark, 1901–1950
St. Clairesville, Ohio, 1936, printed ca. 1936
Gelatin silver print
Gift of the Peter Sekaer Estate, 2013.646
As part of the New Deal initiatives launched by President Franklin D. Roosevelt to combat the economic devastation of the Depression, photographers were engaged by various government agencies to record circumstances across America. Photographers Arthur Rothstein and Peter Sekaer, among scores of others, made visible the tragedies and heroics they encountered in rural communities from Pennsylvania to California. Very little was off limits to their probing cameras. This collection of four pictures is typical of the subjects they sought to document—how people worked and lived and the routines of their daily lives.
Andrew Wyeth, Study for The Quaker, 1975Andrew Wyeth, Study for The Quaker, 1975
Study for The Quaker, 1975
Watercolor on paper
Gift of Andrew and Betsy Wyeth, 2006.60
Andrew Wyeth filled his compositions with symbols that explore common themes of memory, nostalgia, and loss. Here, in seemingly silent conversation, two Revolutionary war–era suitcoats hang in the artist’s rural Pennsylvania studio. The eerie scene evokes the past in layers upon the present: the eighteenth-century coats hang on the mantel in a nineteenth-century schoolhouse, which Wyeth, in the twentieth century, converted into his workspace retreat. Through the window, a view into the wooded landscape offers only an insider’s clue to this otherwise disorienting, timeless picture.
Gordon Parks, Mr. and Mrs. Albert Thornton, Mobile, Alabama, 1956, printed 2012Gordon Parks, Mr. and Mrs. Albert Thornton, Mobile, Alabama, 1956, printed 2012
Mr. and Mrs. Albert Thornton, Mobile, Alabama, 1956, printed 2012
Pigmented inkjet print
Gift of The Gordon Parks Foundation, 2014.386.4
Dale Nichols, Company for Supper, undatedDale Nichols, Company for Supper, undated
Company for Supper, undated
Purchase with funds from the Lawrence and Alfred Fox Foundation for the Ralph K. Uhry Collection, 1991.204
The idyllic, snowy world of Regionalist painter Dale Nichols charmed his mid-twentieth-century audiences. Nichols’s Midwestern farm scenes like Company for Supper have nostalgic appeal. Here, a sleigh pulls guests across the picturesque landscape while a cozy farmhouse and trim-looking barn in the distance offer a sense of warm serenity. With the snow settled into a blanket of white on the fields, the promise of a jovial gathering lies ahead.
Luigi Lucioni, Summer Shadows, undatedLuigi Lucioni, Summer Shadows, undated
American, born Italy, 1900–1988
Summer Shadows, undated
Etching on paper
Gift of Carl and Marian Mullis, 1994.174
In 1931, Luigi Lucioni took a commission to paint a Vermont landscape. He was captivated by the region’s natural beauty and ultimately settled there. His precise, articulate, cheerful pictures reveal something of his love for his new home. The sun shines on these humble but tidy farmhouses of Lucioni’s Vermont. An immigrant from northern Italy, Lucioni claimed to feel a connection between these two rural places. The verdant countryside and majestic mountains of New England inspired memories of his first childhood home.
Jamie Wyeth, Runaway Pig from The Farm Suite, ca. 1980Jamie Wyeth, Runaway Pig from The Farm Suite, ca. 1980
American, born 1946
Runaway Pig from The Farm Suite, ca. 1980
Etching and drypoint on wove paper
Gift of LaTrelle Brewster, 2009.5.3
Jamie Wyeth (son of painter Andrew Wyeth) deftly employs etching and drypoint techniques to capture the varying textures and tones of animal fur, a bee’s hive, and a straw nest. Wyeth’s jarring close-up perspectives, dramatic shadowing, rich tonal qualities, and precise details elevate these humble subjects to near Old Master status. Featuring animals from around his homes in the rural Brandywine River Valley in eastern Pennsylvania and coastal Maine.
About the Title: Our Good Earth
Best known for his depictions of midwestern farm life, John Steuart Curry was already a successful artist when the US Government commissioned him to create a propaganda poster to support American involvement in World War II. Although he was expected to produce an image that could motivate through fear (with war-ravaged landscapes and soldiers), Curry instead believed people were moved by incentives “on a much higher plane.” Paired with the slogan “Our Good Earth . . . keep it ours,” Curry’s heroic farmer became a popular image, and one that inspired broad distribution in print.
Our Good Earth, 1942Our Good Earth, 1942
John Steuart Curry
Our Good Earth, 1942
Lithograph on paper
Gift in memory of Alan R. Liederman from his children, 1991.107
Our Good Earth . . . Keep It Ours, 1942Our Good Earth . . . Keep It Ours, 1942
John Steuart Curry
Our Good Earth . . . Keep It Ours, 1942
100-line offset lithograph on paper
Smithsonian American Art Museum, gift of Roger Genser–The Prints and the Pauper, 2001.83.
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Our Good Earth: Rural Life and American Art is organized by the High Museum of Art, Atlanta.
This exhibition is made possible by
Premier Exhibition Series Sponsor
Exhibition Series Sponsor
Premier Exhibition Series Supporters
Sarah and Jim Kennedy
Dr. Joan H. Weens Estate
Benefactor Exhibition Series Supporters
Anne Cox Chambers Foundation
Robin and Hilton Howell
Ambassador Exhibition Supporters
The Antinori Foundation
Louise Sams and Jerome Grilhot
Elizabeth and Chris Willett
Contributing Exhibition Series Supporter
Farideh and Al Azadi
Sandra and Dan Baldwin
The Ron and Lisa Brill Family Charitable Trust
Lucinda W. Bunnen
Marcia and John Donnell
Helen C. Griffith
Mrs. Fay S. Howell/The Howell Fund
Mr. and Mrs. Baxter Jones
The Arthur R. and Ruth D. Lautz Charitable Foundation
Joel Knox and Joan Marmo
Margot and Danny McCaul
The Fred and Rita Richman Fund
In Memory of Elizabeth B. Stephens by Powell Stephens, Preston Stephens, and Sally Stephens Westmoreland
Mrs. Harriet H. Warren
Generous support is also provided by
Alfred and Adele Davis Exhibition Endowment Fund, Anne Cox Chambers Exhibition Fund, Barbara Stewart Exhibition Fund, Dorothy Smith Hopkins Exhibition Endowment Fund, Eleanor McDonald Storza Exhibition Endowment Fund, The Fay and Barrett Howell Exhibition Fund, Forward Arts Foundation Exhibition Endowment Fund, Helen S. Lanier Endowment Fund, Isobel Anne Fraser–Nancy Fraser Parker Exhibition Endowment Fund, John H. and Wilhelmina D. Harland Exhibition Endowment Fund, Katherine Murphy Riley Special Exhibition Endowment Fund, Margaretta Taylor Exhibition Fund, and the RJR Nabisco Exhibition Endowment Fund.