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  • Worcester Art Museum Exhibits New Collection of Curry Sketchbooks

    WORCESTER, MASS., JANUARY 29, 2002 - A Worcester Art Museum exhibition, on view Saturday, Feb. 23 through Sunday, May 5, celebrates a major gift of sketchbooks and drawings by John Steuart Curry, an early 20th-century artist known for his depictions of rural America.

    Collective Images: The Sketchbooks of John Steuart Curry features selections from 98 sketchbooks and 134 loose drawings donated to the Museum in 1999 by the artist's widow, the late Kathleen Gould Curry. Collective Images includes early sketches for Curry's well-known paintings and mural projects, as well as childhood drawings on exhibit for the first time. Curry's work in the exhibition ranges from soft watercolors of the Wisconsin plains to exacting studies of the human figure, and from sweet drawings of domestic animals to powerful images of wildlife in struggle. A specially selected sketchbook of circus drawings will open to a new page each week. Technical materials, including the artist's drawing tools, blank pad and receipt book will also be on display.

    “This exhibition is not only a celebration of an incredible gift of art but an incredible record of one artist's life and work, as well,” said Curator Maura Brennan. “Individually, the drawings represent stages along the way in various projects, but as a collective, the images tell the greater story of how a farm boy from Kansas grew to become an important artist of the 20th century.”

    Sketchbooks bring together finished drawings, doodles, references, notes and information, bound together by a specific time and place in an artist's life. The collection of Curry's sketchbooks traces the progression of his work from rough sketches and studies to finished designs for prints, paintings and wall murals. The drawings show how the artist experimented with media-chalk, watercolor, graphite, gouache, pen and ink, crayon and even correcting fluid. They also document his sources and subjects-Curry often noted the reference book and page he borrowed historical details from, or the name and address of a person he portrayed.

    “Mrs. Curry, the benefactor of this great gift, was a dear friend of the Museum,” said Brennan. “She was also her husband's greatest champion, striving to preserve his art and influence for more than 50 years. Now with an extensive collection of sketchbooks, loose drawings and technical and archival materials, the Worcester Art Museum can serve as a real center for the study of John Steuart Curry and can continue Mrs. Curry's work.”

    Mrs. Curry, who died Sept. 10, 2001 at age 101, made indispensible contributions to the research for this exhibition, which is now dedicated in her memory.

    About John Steuart Curry
    Born on a farm in Dunavant, Kan., in 1897, Curry enjoyed drawing from a young age. A collection of his childhood creations, including an editorial cartoon depicting Theodore Roosevelt, is included in the exhibition. At age 19, Curry moved eastward to pursue a career in illustration, studying and working in Kansas City, Chicago, New York, and Paris. Influenced by illustrator Harvey Dunn, Curry did free-lance work illustrating Western stories that were published in Boy's Life, the Saturday Evening Post and other magazines. Settling in the artists' haven of Westport, Conn., Curry turned his attention to painting. By 1928, he finished the first painting to bring him critical recognition, Baptism in Kansas.

    In 1932, Curry traveled with the Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey Circus on a two-month tour through New England and the mid-Atlantic states, sketching and, later, painting scenes of circus life. The Worcester Art Museum exhibition highlights several of Curry's circus drawings. Each week of the exhibition, a new page from one of Curry's circus sketchbooks will be displayed.

    In 1936, Curry became the nation's first artist-in-residence, appointed by the College of Agriculture at University of Wisconsin-Madison to promote art in rural, farming communities. Curry juried art shows, provided support for local artists, and completed a series of murals.

    Along with fellow Midwest artists Grant Wood (American Gothic) and Thomas Hart Benton (Boomtown), Curry emerged in the 1930s as an artist of the Regionalist movement. The Regionalists were linked by their depictions of a purely American experience. Between the two World Wars, America began to focus on its identity, looking to artists like Curry to illustrate American values and themes. Curry's depictions of the unique landscape and way of life in the American Midwest were seen as a welcome antidote to the European Modernism that preceded him.

    Included in the exhibition are a sketch and related materials from one of Curry's most important yet controversial projects, a series of murals for the Kansas State Capitol. Some subject matter-his portrayal of fanatic abolitionist John Brown and negative representations of Kansas-prompted public outcry. A dispute with state officials prevented Curry from finishing the project, and he never signed the murals.

    Curry died in 1946, at age 48. In 1992, 46 years after his death, the Kansas Legislature passed a resolution apologizing for its poor treatment of this important American artist.

    The media sponsor for this exhibition is the Telegram & Gazette.

    Museum Background

    A cultural jewel of New England, the Worcester Art Museum first opened to the public in 1898. Its exceptional 35,000-piece collection of paintings, sculpture, decorative arts, photography, prints and drawings is displayed in 36 galleries and spans 5,000 years of art and culture, ranging from Egyptian antiquities and Roman mosaics to Impressionist paintings and contemporary art. Its extensive four-season studio arts program enrolls 6,000 adult and youth students each year. Museum hours are Wednesday through Sunday, 11 a.m.-5 p.m., Thursday, 11 a.m.-8 p.m. (sponsored by Commerce Bank), and Saturday, 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Admission is $8 for adults, $6 for seniors and full-time college students with current ID, and FREE for Members and all youth 17 and under. Admission is also FREE for everyone on Saturday mornings, 10 a.m.-noon (sponsored by The TJX Companies and Massachusetts Electric Company). The Museum is located at 55 Salisbury St., Worcester, Mass., easily accessible from the Massachusetts Turnpike (I-90), Route 290 and Route 9. Expanded parking is available near entrances on Salisbury, Lancaster and Tuckerman streets. For more information, call (508) 799-4406.

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