Demuth Museum exhibition explores the role of the Susquehanna River as a muse for artists | Entertainment
The Susquehanna River has always been an important source of inspiration for painter, mixed media artist and curator Rob Evans. Evans, 62, grew up in suburban Washington, DC, but spent summers at his grandparents’ house in the hills of Wrightsville roaming the forests.
“It was like heaven,” says Evans, who now lives on a farm in Wrightsville overlooking the river. “The river kind of permeated my psyche. It really became a part of who I was and what I would eventually become.
“Drawing on the Susquehanna: Four Centuries of Artistic Inspiration and Commerce” features 60 works of art spanning, primarily, the early 1600s to early 1900s and is on display at the Demuth Museum in Lancaster from August 6 through October 30.
“The exhibition is a good representation of the river and how it has influenced artists from centuries ago to the present day,” says Greta Rymar, collections and exhibitions coordinator at the Demuth Foundation. “The show is really important and interesting because it combines fine art, nature and history to engage the audience.”
The river as a muse
Although Evans does not include any of his own works in the abridged version of this traveling exhibition at Demuth, he did highlight the Susquehanna River in paintings of the spectacular panoramic views from the former “Roundtop” residence of his grandfathers. parents as well as moody scenes. atmospheric images of the river from different views from the banks. The river is a major muse for the artist Evans, but as a curator Evans argues for the Susquehanna River as an original source of inspiration for American landscape painters, and even for James Fenimore Cooper, one of the first novelists of the country.
The Hudson River School is a major 19th century American art movement featuring highly romantic depictions of the landscape of New York State’s Hudson River Valley and surrounding areas. Art historians largely credit landscape painter Thomas Cole (1801-1848) as the founder of the movement.
“The American landscape school really grew out of the Susquehanna and that led to the Hudson River School, which later got all the fame and name that goes with it,” says Evans. “But the Susquehanna, I think, had an even earlier impact.”
To support this theory, Evans included several images and artifacts, including a book with an engraving of a painting by Thomas Cole for his close friend James Fenimore Cooper’s novel “The Last of the Mohicans” which predates the Hudson River School. . An earlier, Cooper’s 1823 novel “The Pioneers” also called “Springs of the Susquehanna” is set in the springs of the Susquehanna in New York and, says Evans, is truly the first great American novel set in America.
Perhaps a stronger piece of evidence for Evans’ theory featured in the exhibit is a rare book he was able to obtain with the help of a patron of the arts. “Lucas’ Progressive Drawing Book” by Fielding Lucas Jr. was published in 1827 is an instructional drawing manual consisting of 16 hand-colored pictures, mostly of rivers, five of which are the Susquehanna River.
“A number of art historians postulate that this book influenced, at a young age, many painters of the Hudson River School,” says Evans. “So again, before the Hudson River School has even started, you start to see the Susquehanna having an impact – soaking into the minds of these artists.”
The first artists
“Drawing on the Susquehanna” begins with an even older work of art: a piece of Native American petroglyph that broke off a rock and washed up at Safe Harbor Dam. The petroglyph was part of an archaeological collection that Evans was able to acquire along with a few other artifacts.
“They really were the first real Susquehanna performers — long before the Westerners came to chase them,” Evans says. “They used real river materials like clay to make pots.”
The exhibit travels through time to see how artists, including local painters like Lloyd Mifflin of Columbia and Julius Augustus Beck of Lititz, have depicted the ever-changing river and landscape.
“What’s really fascinating about the exhibit is that you see through the eyes of the artists the gradual progression,” says Evans. “You see the wars between the native population and the settlers, you see them finally being expelled, then you see the development along the shore – the canals and the railways, then finally the dams and the power stations leading up to what we We have today. Everything is documented by artists over 400 years ago.
The exhibit traces artistic interpretations of the changes in the river, the landscape, and the people who live and work along the river, but it also traces how the art was created and disseminated to the public. The exhibit features subscription prints of books that people could hang on their walls, marking the first time an average person could own something by an artist like Thomas Cole.
“Many of these artists used the current print technologies of the time to disseminate their work,” says Evans, who also experiments with technology and art with his mixed media work or range of NFTs. “This is the beginning of the mass production and dissemination of the artist’s work.”
Artists also partnered with newspapers, logging companies and other businesses to document what was happening along the river, Evans says. And lithographs and engravings of bridges, railroads and canals being built along the river have made headlines across the country. With artists doing the PR work of the river, the Susquehanna quickly became a national and even international destination.
Some of the artists partnered with logging companies, other businesses and newspapers to tell the stories of what was happening along the river. “It’s amazing to me how the Susquehanna has kind of been overlooked,” says Evans. “It was, at one time, one of the most important rivers in the country.”