Sixty original prints depicting regional agrarian life and labor struggles during the Great Depression of the 1930s are on display for students and the public through the end of the week at the John A. Day Gallery in the Warren M. Lee Center for the Fine Arts.
“Dust, Metal and Stone: The Graphic Arts of the 1930s” opened up to students and the public free of charge July 29 and ends Friday. “Dust, Metal and Stone” is the first for the John A. Day Gallery’s 2013-14 exhibition season lasting through next summer.
Alison Erazmus, director of the University of South Dakota’s art galleries, said “Dust, Metal and Stone” was a collaborative work between her and graduate student Jennifer Padgett, which came together during an independent study project.
“Basically, Jennifer (Padgett) was going through this collection, identifying the prints, studying them, organizing them and then eventually coming up with an exhibition concept,” Erazmus said. “For many reasons, this show is for educational purposes for her, but also for students on campus to learn more about the graphic arts during the 1930s in America.”
With the gallery being open to everyone, all students, not just those in art, are encouraged to visit the exhibitions throughout the year as an enriching part of a liberal arts education, Erazmus said.
“These artists seem to really be able to take depth to another level,” photography professor John Banasiak said. “It’s nice to have artists that are so fluent with a visual language to have students able to learn from them. A lot of schools don’t have this, and it’s a wonderful resource for everyone.”
First-year Em Hattouni said she sees college as a center for cultural experiences and believes it is important for all students to experience art because art can move anyone in unexpected ways.
“At first I was impressed with how striking the pictures were,” Hattouni said. “They weren’t colored, and when I walked up to them, I was amazed at how much detail there was. The pictures spoke more than I expected.”
The 60 prints were created by over 30 regionalist and realist American artists who wanted to depict an era of the United States when art, labor and landscape were all changing dramatically.
“Everything is from the American art movement of the 1930s that dominated the country’s art,” Erazmus said. “Obviously, the word realism means you are going to identify what you are looking at — a landscape or a portrait. The majority of the show is of landscape, especially Midwestern landscape. As far as people, there are many different people — farmers, workers, blue collar workers.”
Banasiak said the era of the artists had a significant impact on the how viewers can interpret the art.
“These men and women were working under a government program,” Banasiak said. “They felt a need to explain the cultural happenings of the time. They wanted to communicate something other than just physical information. The way the landscape flows in the prints and the energy that is created is more of an emotional take of what was going on at the time.”
As far as the university’s fine art program is concerned, “Dust, Metal, and Stone” is only a portion of over 400 Associated American Artists original prints in the university’s permanent collection, showing the amount of quality work the Center for Fine Arts has at its disposal, Erazmus said.
“Part of the university’s core mission is to exhibit portions of the permanent collection at least once a year so that the public, the Vermillion community and the university community can know what we have because, for the most part, it is all in storage,” Erazmus said. “It is good to show off what we have in our holding.”