Picturing Old New England

Image and Memory

Edited by William H. Truettner and Roger Stein

View Inside Price: $75.00


March 11, 1999
272 pages, 9 1/2 x 11
120 b/w + 90 color illus.
ISBN: 9780300079388
Cloth

Published in association with the National Museum of American Art, Smithsonian Institution

When we think of New England, we envision village greens surrounded by neat, white-framed houses; tall elms and church spires; country stores; Yankee farmers; sailing ships; rocky coastlines; brilliant autumn foliage. Despite the fact that there is a New England of cities, factories, and an increasingly diverse ethnic population, it is the Old New England that Americans have always treasured, finding in it a kind of “national memory bank.” This beautiful book examines images of Old New England created between 1865 and 1945, demonstrating how these images encoded the values of age and tradition to a nation facing complex cultural issues during the period.

The book begins with an introduction by Dona Brown and Stephen Nissenbaum that provides a historical background to the era. Then William Truettner, Roger Stein, and Bruce Robertson turn more directly to New England images and discuss a variety of artistic efforts to historicize the past. They show that paintings of the Revolutionary War, of harvest scenes, or of genteel old New England towns served, for example, to provide reassurance to urban dwellers after the Civil War, to counteract the effects of modernism, and to encourage a sense of community during the Depression. They also examine paintings of coastal New England and favorite haunts of tourists and artists such as Winslow Homer and Marsden Hartley. The many images of Old New England, say the authors, represent shared cultural beliefs—ways of seeing the present in terms of a mythical past.

This book is the catalogue for an exhibition at the National Museum of American Art, Smithsonian Institution, Washington, D.C., from April 2 to August 22, 1999.

William H. Truettner is senior curator of paintings and sculpture at the National Museum of American Art. Roger Stein is professor of art history at the University of Virginia.

"Truettner [examines] the works of some 97 artists and why it is that most of them chose to depict a rural New England that defied the reality of the industrialization that actually characterized the region. . . . Picturing Old New England explores the power of the image over the evidence presented to our senses."—Art Times

"This volume is a more interesting and valuable contribution than many exhibition catalogs. It accomplishes the dual purposes of providing a history of the depiction of old New England and documenting how a pleasant mythology of place has been created. Demonstrating how we have been taught through pictures and stories to perceive this geographic area, the authors and curators offer a glimpse, as well, of the social and cultural history of real place. . . . A necessary addition to libraries serving history of art, cultural studies, and American studies programs."—Choice


"The images gathered here—photographs and paintings created between 1865 and 1945—are emblematic of the region, confirming a New England of icy winters, stoic folk, a rocky coast, and soft hills as a backdrop to clap-board houses and a white church with its lofty steeple as a community compass point. Exuding easy comfort, theses images confirm our easy sense of New England as a place of enduring ways."—Library Journal



“Thankfully free of the gibberish too often served up by art theorists and critics, this is as thoughtful a critique . . . of the art portraying New England’s sea and shore through time as we’ll ever see in 28 pages.”—Peter H. Spectre, Maine Boats & Harbors