Frye Art Museum

photo by Jill Berarducci

Seattle, Washington



Scenes of American Life: Treasures from the Smithsonian American Art Museum


Edward Hopper, Jacob Lawrence, John Sloan, Rockwell Kent... See the Smithsonian's best-known American works from the American Art Museum's touring exhibition - on view only at the Frye Art Museum this summer of 2001 in Scenes of American Life: Treasures from the Smithsonian American Art Museum. This touring exhibition presents 62 important paintings and sculptures celebrating American life in the first half of the twentieth century. The exhibition will be on view at the Frye beginning June 16 and ending September 9, 2001.

Scenes of American Life is one of eight exhibitions in Treasures to Go, from the Smithsonian American Art Museum, touring the nation through 2002, [see our earlier articles covering the exhibition at the Tennessee State Museum: Scenes of American Life: Treasures from the Smithsonian American Art Museum (5/9/00) and at the Bruce Museum: Scenes of American Life: Treasures from the Smithsonian American Art Museum (3/15/00)] while the museum is undergoing a major renovation. (left: Ross Dickinson, Valley Farms, Smithsonian American Art Museum)

"The Frye is one of the fortunate sites selected to present this exhibition," says Frye Executive Director, Richard V.West. "This exhibition captures America's story in a very personal way, through images covering a half century." "The idea of painting the common man and daily life was new at the turn of the twentieth century," said Elizabeth Broun, director of the Smithsonian American Art Museum. "Artists moved away from the elegance and formality of the Gilded Age and began painting everyday people." These energetic and often witty artworks seemed to symbolize the true strength of the nation."

Seattle artist Jacob Lawrence is represented with one work of cubist-influenced art entitled "The Library" (1960). Lawrence celebrated African American culture and history throughout his career and this piece provides an excellent example. Both Lawrence and William H. Johnson examined African American life within a modernist framework. In "Cafe" (about 1939-40) and "Early Morning Work" (about 1940) Johnson draws on modern primitivism and flattened forms to portray the sophistication of the Harlem Renaissance and the lives of rural Southern black families. Ninety-year old African American artist, Allan Rohan Crite, just completed his own solo exhibition at the Frye this past spring [see our earlier article Allan Rohan Crite: Artist - Reporter of African-American Community (2/13/01)] and is represented in Scenes with "Sunlight and Shadow" (1941).

The earliest work in the exhibition is Rockwell Kent's "Snow Fields" (1909), capturing the new spirit of the age with scenes of women, children, and dogs frolicking on a sunny winter day. William Glackens' "Beach Umbrellas at Blue Point" (ca. 1915) and Agnes Tait's "Skating in Central Park" (1934) show pleasantly chaotic activities at a public beach or park.

Work and industry also inspired American artists, who were fascinated with heavy industry, factory production, and vast engineering projects, especially during Depression years of high unemployment. Smoke fills the air in Reginald Marsh's testament to the power of the machine.

New Deal projects helped put many Americans back to work, from construction workers to artists, as seen in William Gropper's "Construction of the Dam" (about 1937) and "Artists on WPA'' (1935) by Moses Soyer. During the Depression, government-sponsored murals, such as Gertrude Goodrich's candy-colored "Scenes of American Life (Beach)" of 1941-47 and Joseph Rugolo's bright and snappy "Mural of Sports" (about 1935), appeared in post offices, schools, and libraries. (left: Moses Soyer, Artists on WPA, 1935, Smithsonian American Art Museum)

Grant Wood's 1930 "Landscape" is a mythic evocation of America's rural beauty, just as drought came to the Midwest. Ross Dickinson portrayed the lush fertility of California's irrigated fields in "Valley Farms" (about 1933-34), a sharp contrast to Alexandre Hogue's parched and abandoned midwestern farmland in "Dust Bowl" (1933).

Both Andrew Wyeth and Thomas Hart Benton, whose works have been shown in solo exhibitions at the Frye, convey deeper messages through their landscapes. "Dodge's Ridge" (1947) by Wyeth shows a wind-swept field with a rough-hewn cross marking the place of his father's accidental death. Benton's "Wheat" (1967), painted soon after his near-fatal heart attack, offers a more hopeful theme by suggesting eternal cycles of growth and harvest.

The Principal Financial Group® is a proud partner in presenting these treasures to the American people. More information and full itineraries for Treasures to Go can be found on the Smithsonian American Art Museum's web site at

Additional resources for our readers: covers American Regionalism, 25 Social Realists of the 1930s, Magic Realism of the 1940s and 50s, Folk Art through American history, and Contemporary Realism of the late 1960s and early 1970s. For "American Scene" art of the 1930s and 40s enjoy the WPA Period Print Collection Directory from the University of Montana.


Read more in Resource Library Magazine about the Frye Art Museum.

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.

Links to sources of information outside of our web site are provided only as referrals for your further consideration. Please use due diligence in judging the quality of information contained in these and all other web sites. Information from linked sources may be inaccurate or out of date. TFAO neither recommends or endorses these referenced organizations. Although TFAO includes links to other web sites, it takes no responsibility for the content or information contained on those other sites, nor exerts any editorial or other control over them. For more information on evaluating web pages see TFAO's General Resources section in Online Resources for Collectors and Students of Art History.

This page was originally published in Resource Library Magazine. Please see Resource Library's Overview section for more information. rev. 5/23/11

Search Resource Library for thousands of articles and essays on American art.

Copyright 2011 Traditional Fine Arts Organization, Inc., an Arizona nonprofit corporation. All rights reserved.