August Threshing, Iowa
August Threshing, Iowa
Palmer, William C.
Tempera on canvas mounted on Masonite
16 x 20 inches
Wichita Art Museum, Museum purchase, Friends of the Wichita Art Museum
Not Currently on Display
About the Artwork
One of the dominant movements in American painting during the period of the Great Depression was the so-called American Scene, a movement which emphasized familiar subject matter, treated in literal terms so as to communicate clearly and widely. Economically, these were despairing times and it is understandable that a nostalgic flavor often found expression in the art of the period, a quality which — especially in the farming regions of the Midwest — celebrated the simple traditional virtues of life close to the soil.
This painting, titled August Threshing, Iowa, was executed in 1932 by the Iowa-born artist William Palmer and epitomizes the strong regionalist sentiment of the period. Here the subject is pictorially stated in clearly organized visual language. The land is flat, the horizon is low and the focal point of interest is at the center of the composition where a threshing machine, operated by power transmitted through belts from a steam tractor, is shown loading the separated grain kernels onto mule wagons and at the same time ejecting the chaff onto a mound seen on the left. Throughout the composition, outlines are soft, and colors are subdued, except for the rather vivid red used to emphasize selected parts of the threshing machine. At the same time, the arrangement of forms rising diagonally from the swollen mound at the lower left of the barn seen near the distant horizon line at the right, dramatizes the action depicted. In turn, that action is complemented by the fluid pattern of abstract forms in the sky where whirling billows of smoke and fluffy balloon-like clouds with cool-reflected color tones repeat both the forms and the colors seen in the subject below.
American Scene painting is sometimes viewed as an escapist reaction against the machine age in general and more particularly the collapse of the industrial economy of the ’20s. However, that interpretation is hardly valid in a work such as this. For here man is seen not as a victim of the machine but is depicted rather as being in full control of his environment and as achieving productivity by working in harmony not only with nature but also with modern technology.
Such a progressive outlook was actually true of many American Scene painters and especially of William Palmer who throughout most of the 1930s worked actively on various New Deal art projects and came to be especially recognized for his series of murals installed in the Queens General Hospital, New York City, that depicted aspects of preventive medicine and that were used in the instruction of both hospital interns and nurses.
William Palmer was born in Des Moines, Iowa in 1906. He studied in France and from 1941 to 1973 served as Director of the Munson-Williams-Proctor Institute School of Art in Utica where he remained Director Emeritus until his death in 1987. Palmer exhibited in numerous exhibitions throughout the nation and is represented in major museum collections both in America and abroad.