Collective Images: The Sketchbooks of John Steuart Curry

John Steuart Curry, Baby Ruth
John Steuart Curry: Baby Ruth, 1933, gouache, Gift of Mrs. John Steuart Curry, 1999.163 © Estate of Mrs. John Steuart Curry

February 23 - Through May 5, 2002

This exhibition of drawings by the American Regionalist artist John Steuart Curry (1897-1946) reveals the importance of the sketchbook format. The sketchbook is a unique collective which brings together finished drawings, doodles, references, notes and information, which are literally and figuratively bound together by a specific time and place in an artist's life. In the sketchbooks, we can trace the inception of an artist's idea, follow the progress of his work, and note his preferences in tools, materials and methods.
In a rare opportunity for the public, the Museum is exhibiting for the first time selections from its holdings of Curry sketchbooks and loose drawings. Curry was raised on a Kansas farm and sketched what he knew best; livestock, pastures, cowboys and tornadoes recurred as themes throughout his work. At the age of 19, he moved eastward to pursue a career in illustration, studying and working in Chicago, New York, New Jersey, and Paris. Settling in the artists' haven of Westport, Connecticut, Curry turned his attention to painting. By 1928, he finished the first painting to bring him critical recognition, Baptism in Kansas.
Along with fellow Midwest artists Grant Wood and Thomas Hart Benton, Curry emerged in the 1930s as an artist of the Regionalist movement. The Regionalists, although working in isolation from one another initially, were linked together because of their depiction of a purely American experience. In 1936, Curry became the nation's first artist-in-residence, appointed by the College of Agriculture at the University of Wisconsin, Madison to promote art in the rural farming communities.

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He received commissions to paint murals in the Department of the Interior and Justice buildings in Washington, and the Kansas statehouse in Topeka. Although Curry achieved recognition for his abilities as a painter and printmaker, he never forgot his first interest in illustration, and drawing remained his passion throughout his life.
The drawings in this exhibition are a remarkable record of Curry's evolution as an artist. They span his life, from a political cartoon penned at age 7, to sketches done shortly before his death at 48. Highlights include drawings from his six-week tour with Ringling Brothers, Barnum & Bailey Circus, as well as early sketches for his famous mural projects. With a wide range of media, including pen and ink, watercolor, gouache, graphite and crayon, the sketchbooks tell the stories behind Curry's best-known paintings. This extensive collection of Curry sketchbooks and loose drawings came to the Museum in 1999 as the generous gift of the artist╣s widow, Kathleen Gould Curry, who passed away September 10 at age 101. Her gifts position the Worcester Art Museum as a center for the study of John Steuart Curry, and this exhibition is dedicated to her memory.
The media sponsor is the Worcester Telegram & Gazette.