Greenville County Museum of Art

Greenville, SC



Southern Scene


The Greenville County Museum of Art has unveiled a new exhibition, Southern Scene, which features Southern-related art and artists of the American Scene movement and its evolution from the Depression era to the Cold War years of the 1950s. The term "American Scene" describes the socially aware, politically oriented art, focused specifically on American subjects, that was developed during this period in a variety of styles. (left: Thomas Hart Benton, Crap Shooters, 1928)

Drawn from the Museum's Southern Collection, Southern Scene includes newly acquired and rarely seen paintings, sculptures, and prints. It includes works of well-known American Scene artists such as Edward Hopper and Thomas Hart Benton, whose regionalist paintings present Southern settings in an essential and dramatic way. But the breadth of the exhibition also encompasses works whose themes range from urban and rural lifestyle to religion, as well as social commentary on war, labor, injustice, and poverty.

The exhibition includes many paintings of African American subjects that symbolized life in the American South. Benton's Crap Shooters (1928), Seymour Fogel's Baptism (1933), and William H. Johnson's Lift Up Thy Voice and Sing (1942) are among the images that convey American Scene themes by showing black subjects in both urban and rural settings. The representation also extends to wartime depictions: in The Boys (1943), Sylvia Wald conveys the camaraderie among a group of men from different branches of the service who share race and war as their common ties.

Many images in Southern Scene do not present a cheerful view of the South, but the years between 1920 and 1952 were not cheerful times for many of the region's citizens. In The Plowman (1942), Jacob Armstead Lawrence captures the richness of the southern soil, but his painting of a farmer and his mule-drawn plow conveys an impression of brutally hard labor, unrelieved by the development of tractors and modern farming techniques. Frederick S. Wight evokes austerity in a trio of paintings depicting inhabitants of Augusta, Georgia, during the Depression. Robert Gwathmey and Charles Henry Alston, both Social Realists, present stereotypical racial images in Southern settings. On the other hand, Simka Simkhovitch created a racially integrated and economically vigorous view in Study for a Mural (1936), his submission for a New Deal program that commissioned murals for public buildings around the country. (right: Frederick Wight, Mr. Allgood, Augusta, 1934)

Religion strikes a more optimistic note in the exhibition. Hopper's Baptistry of St. Johns (1929) captures the peace and dignity of the baptismal font in Charleston's historic Lutheran Church. John McCrady's Heaven Bound (1940) and Jacques Van Aalten's Repent,You Sinners (1938) convey vigorous religious messages.

The modern era is also represented, particularly in images from the later years of the period. The crisp, hard-edged geometry of Chemical Plant (1946) by Edmund D. Lewandowski testifies to the powerful impact of industrial development. The urban setting in Morning on Huger Street (circa 1950), by Edmund Yaghjian, explores a simple street scene dwarfed by the towering superstructure of water tanks.

Southern Scene will be on view through May 6, 2001.

Read more articles and essays concerning this institutional source by visiting the sub-index page for the Greenville County Museum of Art in Resource Library.

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. 4/6/11

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