Museums at Stony Brook

Stony Brook, NY



The Search for the Pictorial: The Life and Art of William Steeple Davis


The Museums at Stony Brook will showcase the works of Long Island artist William Steeple Davis in a new exhibition opening on June 24 and continuing through August 6, 2000. "The Search for the Pictorial: The Life and Art of William Steeple Davis" features paintings, photographs and drawings by the East End artist on loan from the Oysterponds Historical Society.

Davis was born on May 7, 1884, and lived his entire life in the small village of Orient, on the eastern tip of the north shore of Long Island. Like many Long Island artists, he used his rural surroundings to further his career as a painter, photographer, and commercial artist. His work has been compared to that of Whitney Hubbard, Irving R. Wiles and Fairfield Porter. But unlike his East End contemporaries, Davis was self-taught and socially isolated; he rarely left Orient and did not travel to Europe until late in life. Despite this, he frequently exhibited his works at both American and international venues, he wrote more than six hundred articles about photography for such magazines as The Camera and Photo Era, and he established a career as a commercial illustrator. (left: Self portrait, 1909, oil on board)

In Davis's earliest paintings, dating from 1893 and 1894, he delighted in depicting the sailing ships he saw on Long Island Sound. With no formal training and much persistence, he strove to define himself as an artist and tried to continue the tradition of marine and landscape painting developed by his 19th-century predecessors Thomas Birch, Thomas Cole and Winslow Homer. His 1912 work Winter Afternoon is a good example of a painter trying to hold on to 19th-century realism in an age when modernism and abstraction were becoming the dominant styles of American painting. (left: Sunset, 1910, pastel)

Davis's graphic works consist primarily of etchings, hand-colored prints and block prints that echo the subject matter of his paintings. His linoleum block prints Horse and Buggy Days (1936) and Ploughing Time (1936) reflect a simpler time when men depended upon the power of horses, not steam or gasoline power. His best known work, In Tumult (c. 1927), perhaps best expresses the artist as a talented draftsman and reflects his love and respect for the power of the ocean.

But it is his photographic works and essays on photography for which Davis is best known. His first contact with photographic materials was in 1895 when a friend, Lucien C. Laudy, sent him a magic lantern and several dozen lantern slides. Within a few years, Davis began to publish articles in well-known photography journals, and in 1923 he published the book Practical Amateur Photography. Davis was interested in all aspects of photography -- artistic, technical, scientific and economic -- and by his death he had published more than 600 articles on the subject.

A catalogue, written by Dr. Kimberly Rhodes, with an introduction by Dr. Paul Sternberger, accompanies the show. The exhibition will travel to Hollins University in Virginia in the fall of 2002.

Funding for the exhibition and accompanying publication has been provided by the New York State Council on the Arts, Robert Shurhan, Carole G. Donlin, and the Arts in Southold Town.

Read more about the Museums at Stony Brook in Resource Library Magazine

Please click on thumbnail images bordered by a red line to see enlargements.

For further biographical information on selected artists cited above please see America's Distinguished Artists, a national registry of historic artists.

This page was originally published in Resource Library Magazine. Please see Resource Library's Overview section for more information. rev. 3/2/11

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