Research: Luce Center for American Art

At Work in America

Work is a theme that runs through the American collections. Colonial and Federal portraits rarely show the sitter engaged in actual work, although the attributes of the sitter’s profession—whether it be that of schoolmaster, mapmaker, soldier, or statesman—may be included. Landscape paintings often include images of rural labor celebrating the fertility of the land and the patriotic ideal of the yeoman farmer. Idealized or caricatured images of rural workers provided both humor and nostalgia for nineteenth-century city dwellers whose childhoods had often been spent in the country. Women’s work was the special province of Lilly Martin Spencer, whose humorous and sentimental images of domestic labor in the mid-nineteenth century brought her fame as one of the few professional female artists of her day (70.26).

Cities provided the setting for new kinds of labor. Francis Guy’s view of Brooklyn catalogues the businesses and businessmen as well as the workers of the early nineteenth-century village. George Luks portrayed immigrant street culture a century later, with urban crowds surging by storefronts and vendors (40.339). George Bellows’s grim yet dynamic image captures the antlike laborers swarming in and out of the gigantic excavation that became Pennsylvania Station (67.205.1).

The collections also include a rich array of objects used in household labor. Food molds were deemed utilitarian by their nineteenth-century users, but a curatorial selection of these objects provides an aesthetic display. In contrast, many twentieth-century century designers collaborated with manufacturers to offer the consumer functional objects that are both beautiful and useful.

22 objects are included in this theme.
97.13 Francis Guy
Winter Scene in Brooklyn, ca. 1819-1820

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06.311 Thomas Waterman Wood
New Cider, 1868

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16.30 Julian Alden Weir
Willimantic Thread Factory, 1893

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30.1109 Bertram Hartman
Trinity Church and Wall Street, 1929

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39.116 Chester Beach
The Stoker, 1912

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39.608 William Sidney Mount
Caught Napping (Boys Caught Napping in a Field), 1848

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40.223 American
Platter (Knights of Labor), 1869

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40.238 American
Platter (McCormack Reaper), 1831

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40.339 George Benjamin Luks
Street Scene (Hester Street), 1905

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51.8 Jasper Francis Cropsey
Bareford Mountains, West Milford, New Jersey, 1850

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51.108 Francis William Edmonds
All Talk and No Work, 1855-1856

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67.61 Jerome Thompson
Apple Gathering, 1856

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67.205.1 George Wesley Bellows
Pennsylvania Station Excavation, ca. 1907-1908

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79.169.231 W. Cory
Mold, 19th century

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79.169.236 Unknown
Mold, 19th century

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85.74 Edward P. Schreyer
"Petipoint" Iron, Model #W410, ca. 1941

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86.15a-f Lurelle Guild
Vacuum Cleaner, ca. 1937

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87.31 Randy Dudley
Gowanus Canal from 2nd Street, 1986

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1992.167 Saunders Corporation
"Silver Streak" Iron, ca. 1946

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1994.109.1a-c George Howe
Inkstand and Calendar, ca. 1931

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1998.143.1 Harold L. van Doren
Sentinel Scale, 1930-1940

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X908a-c Stile Craft Manufacturers, Inc.
Pencil Sharpener, "Electro-Pointer", ca. 1930

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