What filled magazines and newspapers before the invention of photography? Some very fine artwork.
Before the camera was invented, it was the illustrator who captured images of Americans at work and play...pictures that graced the pages of America's legendary 19th Century magazines...Harpars Bazaar, Appleton's Journal, Ballou's Pictorial.
And the best of the great American illustrators was Winslow Homer.
An exhibition of Homer's prints at the Fort Wayne Museum of Art traces the self-taught artists career from the beginning, as a 21-year-old freelance artist in Boston in the 1850's.
Homer's early prints were just what the magazines were after...pretty views of American men and women at work and play.
It was the same approach Homer tried when the Civil War broke out.
As a commissioned artist correspondent for Harper's Weekly, he sent back pictures of camp life...soldiers relaxing, playing cards to boost moral of the magazines readers, especially those with loved ones at the front.
Sachi Yanari-Rizzo, with the Fort Wayne Museum of Art says, "Because he was doing the illustrating for the public, for the masses, I think he kept in mind what kind of images they would find comfort in."
But Homer couldn't ignore the nightmare that surrounded him, and his work soon reflected the reality of war.
His battle scene prints are some of the finest produced during the war between the states.
The horror the artist witnessed on the battlefield never left him.
For years after the war ended, he focused on the battle scarred veteran coming home...here a soldier fresh from the killing fields, grafts new life onto a fruit tree.
And Homer begins to chronicle the changes that came after the war...the rising independence of women, here the veteran amputee defers to the woman's skill with the reins of the carriage.
Yanari-Rizzo says, "So you started to see women come out in different vocations like school teaching, going unescorted in areas they wouldn't before."
For the rest of his career, Winslow Homer sought comfort in rural America, focusing on the nation's future...the children...looking for clues to where the next generation might lead the country.
Girls in bonnets picking blueberries...little boys watching birds in a wheat field.
These idyllic scenes would remain the focus of Homer's art.
His later paintings and watercolors are for which he is best remembered.
But these prints tell an important story...of a young country torn apart by war, that picks itself up off the battlefield and gets on with the business of building a nation...and taking comfort wherever it can be found.
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