HUNTINGTON — The Huntington Museum of Art has acquired two important paintings for its collection.
The two paintings traverse a century of American paintings and reveal important stories about the Mountain State and its history, according to a news release.
The first work, dating to 1926, is a watercolor painting depicting Harpers Ferry, West Virginia, and was created by famous American Impressionist painter Frederick Childe Hassam (1859-1935).
Hassam made only one trip to West Virginia, arriving in April 1926 when he spent a day sketching and painting in Harpers Ferry. This work, showing the view from the famous Hill Top House Hotel, includes one of the onlookers (a female figure shown at right) who would have watched Hassam paint that April day at Harpers Ferry. In the middle background is the B&O Railroad Bridge, built in 1889, and at right is the Shenandoah River Bridge, also built in 1889 and destroyed in 1936.
“It is believed Childe Hassam completed just four sketches of Harpers Ferry that day, three watercolors and one pencil drawing, making this one of only a tiny number of works by Hassam ever completed in our state,” said Geoffrey K. Fleming, executive director of the Huntington Museum of Art, in the release. “It makes this painting an incredible acquisition for HMA.”
Not long after their creation, the Harpers Ferry sketches were exhibited at the National Academy in New York City in their 1926/1927 Winter Exhibition, in a solo exhibition at the Arthur Harlow & Co. Gallery in New York City the winter of 1927, and in a solo exhibition at the Gordon Dunthorne Gallery in Washington, D.C., in the spring of 1927. The Fogg Art Museum at Harvard University owns another of the Harpers Ferry works.
This watercolor will join five Hassam oil paintings and five prints in the Huntington Museum of Art’s permanent collection, including “Lincoln’s Birthday Flags — 1918,” which is one of the highlights of HMA’s Daywood Collection.
The second recent Huntington Museum of Art acquisition is a mixed media portrait of an African American coal miner by noted African American contemporary artist Stephen Towns (b. 1980) titled “After the Shift.” In this work, the Baltimore-based artist references historical photographs of Black West Virginian coal miners that the artist discovered in the West Virginia State Archives. Each of the six works in his “Coal Miners” series, including “After the Shift,” celebrates the contributions made by African American workers in shaping and building this country. The Smithsonian National Museum of African American Culture and History in Washington, D.C., is among the recent museums to acquire a work by Towns.
Between 1880 and 1940, thousands of African Americans, native-born white Americans, and immigrants migrated to West Virginia and worked alongside one another in the southern coalfields. The legacy of this workforce lives on in the region’s culture and demographics. Of the 10 counties in West Virginia with the highest percentage of Black residents, six are in the coalfields. “The ‘Coal Miners’ series depicts us as West Virginians — and working class Black West Virginians in particular, who are underrepresented in our public collections,” said HMA Senior Curator/Exhibition Designer John Farley, in the release. “I’m delighted that we have our board’s approval to purchase this painting. I have no doubt it will become an icon in our permanent collection.”
“After the Shift” complicates the simplistic narratives about our region’s history and its people that often go unexamined. “It helps add nuance and texture to collective images and ideas we may have thought were clearly defined,” Farley said. “It subverts stereotypes. It sharpens our understanding of who we were and who we are, which inevitably influences who we believe we can be.”
“These two works — created a century apart — span artistic styles, periods and moments in history and more importantly reveal both relatively unknown and hidden stories about our state and region,” Fleming added. “These two important American painters enhance an understanding of our history through artistic creation. What can be better than that?”
For more information on the Huntington Museum of Art, visit hmoa.org or call 304-529-2701. HMA is fully accessible.