Railroad in American Art: Representations of Technological Change
Honorable Mention, 1988, in the category of Excellence in Design and Production, Professional/Scholarly Publishing Annual Awards Competition presented by the Association of American Publishers, Inc.
Of all the innovations of the industrial revolution, it was the railroad that took strongest hold on the collective American imagination. These essays on paintings, prints, and photographs explore the wealth of railroad imagery in American art - from Thomas Cole's pastoral landscapes to the industrial muscle of works by Bellows, Luks, Marsh, and Sloan, and evocations of the frontier in photographs by Andrew Joseph Russell and William Henry Jackson.
The Railroad in American Art had its origins in a 1981 exhibit at the Wellesley College Museum on The Railroad in the America Landscape: 1850-1950. The show attracted much attention because of the remarkable quality and diversity of the images collected, but it also raised numerous questions that are taken up in this more thorough exploration of the intriguing connections between art, technology, and American culture.
Susan Danly lays the ground with a survey of the uses of railroad imagery in American art over the last 150 years. Seven shorter essays then focus on specific images or themes. Kenneth W Maddox looks at the confrontation between economic development and the vanishing wilderness of Native Americans in Asher B. Durand's Progress. Nicolai Cikovksy, Jr., clarifies the place that George Inness's popular but enigmatic Lackawanna Valley had in his career.
Susan Danly uses Andrew Joseph Russell's photographic album The Great West Illustrated to show the impact that railroad patronage had on artists' aesthetic concerns.
Leo Marx concludes the book with a historical exploration of the theme of the railroad-in-the landscape. In an iconological analysis, he shows how railroad imagery was used to represent a variety of deep social and cultural concerns on the part of American artists.
James F. O'Gorman examines the sources for H. H. Richardson's man-made mountain designed for the Ames family (Boston backers of the Union Pacific Railroad) in Wyoming. Dominic Riciotti follows the railroad to the city - the urban train, subway, and elevated - as a force for ever-changing technology, while Susan Fillin-Yeh explores the dual nature of Charles Sheeler's fascinating and powerful painting Rolling Power, which functioned both as a work of fine art and as a piece of commercial advertising. Turning to the railroad imagery in Edward Hopper's work, Gail Levin shows how public image and personal psyche can become deeply intermingled in an artist's work.
Susan Danly is Associate Curator of American Art at the Huntington Library. Leo Marx is William R. Kenan Professor of American Cultural History at MIT.