The Massillon Public Library has received Picturing America, a free initiative of the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH) which helps teach American history and culture by bringing some of the country's great art directly to classrooms and libraries. Great art speaks powerfully, inspires fresh thinking, and connects us to our past. Picturing America brings masterpieces of American art into classrooms and libraries nationwide. Through this innovative program, students and citizens will gain a deeper appreciation of our country's history and character through the study and understanding of its art.
"Picturing America helps us understand our democracy by bringing us face-to-face with the people, places, and events that have shaped our country. It provides an innovative way to experience America's history through our nation's art," saysNEH Chairman Bruce Cole.
The Massillon Public Library is using the 40 large, high-quality art reproductions it has received for exhibit and for children's art classes. Four of these reproductions will be on display in May:
Benjamin Franklin by Hiram Powers
A highly successful, largely self-taught Neoclassical sculptor, Powers emigrated to Italy to further boost his career in the United States. His government commissions, influenced by the classical Roman sculptures of Europe, can be found standing in the U.S. Senate and House collections today.
Although it displays clear classical influences in pose and posture, this larger-than-life-sized marble statue of Benjamin Franklin has a naturalistic style. Hiram Powers’ contemporaries objected to portraying historical figures in contemporary dress, but the sculptor chose to depict the founding father accurately, in a realistic mid-18th century wardrobe—from his tri-corne hat to his cotton hose.
Robert Gould Shaw and the 54th Regiment Memorial by Augustus Saint-Gaudens
Born in Dublin and trained in Europe, Saint-Gaudens created many noted Civil War monuments, as well as American coins and intimate portraits of notable and society figures. The sculptor made the complex Shaw Memorial into a 14-year labor of love, striving to realistically depict each soldier as an individual and making up to 40 different portrait studies in preparation.
The Shaw Memorial, in Boston Common, depicts a resonant, courageous act of the Civil War, in which the first regiment of African American soldiers recruited for the Union Army fought a doomed battle on a South Carolina fortress. Although Colonel Robert Shaw, on horseback, is prominent, the bronze relief is the first American memorial dedicated to individuals united for a cause, rather than to a single military hero.
The Veteran in a New Field by Winslow Homer
Boston-born Homer was a successful illustrator, oil painter, and watercolor artist whose works have become classic images of 19th-century American life. In his Civil War illustrations for “Harper’s Weekly,” Homer focused on the commonplace activities of a soldier—rather than the climax of combat. When he returned to civilian life, Homer continued to depict ordinary events, some of which documented the veteran’s return from the front.
After General Robert E. Lee’s surrender at Appomattox in April 1865, the Union and Confederate armies were peacefully disbanded. The soldiers who had survived the ordeal were free to go home and resume their pre-war occupations. The Veteran in a New Field depicts one of those Civil War veterans recently returned from the front, harvesting a field of grain in the midday sun. The wheat has grown high, and the field stretches all the way to the horizon; an unusually bountiful crop had, in fact, marked the end of the war. The farmer’s military jacket and canteen (with an insignia that identifies him as a former Union soldier) lie discarded in the foreground, almost covered by fallen stalks of grain. This image of a soldier returning to his farm after the Civil War refers to both the desolation of war and the country’s hope for the future. While the farmer’s scythe called to mind the bloodiest battles fought—and lives lost—in fields of grain, the bountiful crop of golden wheat could also be seen as a Christian symbol of salvation. Even in the aftermath of the worst disasters, Winslow Homer seems to say, life has the capacity to restore itself.
Looking Down Yosemite Valley, California, 1865, by Albert Bierstadt
Born and educated in Germany, Bierstadt was a landscape artist captivated by the majesty of the American West. His romantic paintings—especially popular with East Coast audiences—helped satisfy Americans’ curiosity about the great frontier.
This large, panoramic landscape of the Yosemite Valley pulls the viewer into the dramatic scene. Missing in the painting are any people—only a shroud of golden light breaks through the clouds. In Bierstadt’s scenario, the viewer discovers that before so magnificent a landscape, human beings dwindle to insignificance.