- Michele Brown
In my last column, I mentioned that one of the perks of working in a library is that you learn something new every day. This helps immensely when trying to decide upon a topic for an article with a deadline fast approaching. Fortuitously, an email I recently received from one of our library vendors announced that August is American Artist Appreciation Month, which was big news and a big inspiration (read big relief!) to me. So, here’s my take on how the library can inspire you to celebrate American artists.
Opening an art book with full-page color photographs of artists’ works is a glorious revelation. The visual experience of art can trigger a multitude of reactions, be it to calm, energize, surprise, provoke, instruct, repel, mesmerize, or delight. My favorite art books are those oversized, coffee-table types—because the bigger the photographs, the better. Central Rappahannock Regional Library has a broad selection of books featuring our most beloved American artists. Here are a few I recommend:
In Search of Norman Rockwell’s America is a double treat, pairing Rockwell’s iconic feel-good paintings capturing the simple pleasures in American life with similar scenes shot by photographer Kevin Rivoli. Short annotations add an understanding of what these two artists hope to convey, with a smidgen of humor. On a page with Rockwell’s Boy Meets Dog, we find this quote: “If a picture wasn’t going very well, I’d put a puppy in it.”
Women, a collection of photographs by Annie Leibovitz, is a celebration of young, old and in-between American females, famous, infamous, and not famous at all. The book’s essay contributor, Susan Sontag, describes these powerful portraits as “what women are now—as different, as varied, as heroic, as forlorn, as conventional, as unconventional as this.” Particularly striking to me are photos of a soldier in basic training, a West Side Crips all-girl gang in San Antonio, athlete Jackie Joyner-Kersee, two little girls playing with their six Barbie dolls in a convenience store parking lot, and Barbara Bush.
Not oversized but still impressive is a book on another famous American photographer, Ansel Adams, known for his striking black-and-white photographs of our Western landscapes. Start your exploration of his works with Ansel Adams in the National Parks.
Georgia O’Keeffe was also inspired by the Southwest, painting stunning images of New Mexico. But she is also revered for her paintings of flowers and New York skyscrapers. I like Georgia O’Keeffe, Canyon Suite, a collection of watercolors painted between 1916 and 1918, and Georgia O’Keeffe, One Hundred Flowers, a big and beautiful oversized book.
The publisher of Wondrous Strange: The Wyeth Tradition, notes that the 120 paintings in this book are “brimming with madness, mystery, high emotion, and drama.” So right; that’s no hype! These intriguing works are weird and wonderful, eerie and fantastical, stark and dreamlike. I challenge you to check out these paintings by artists Howard Pyle, N.C. Wyeth, Andrew Wyeth, and James Wyeth.
A hefty work, definitely too large for my coffee table, is Art Across America, a three-volume set highlighting over 800 artists with nearly 1,000 illustrations. This book is organized by state, so if you are interested in combing through American art by region, this set is for you.
America, A History in Art tells the story of our country by time period. You’ll find the aforementioned artists Ansel Adams, Georgia O'Keeffe, and Andrew Wyeth, as well as George Bellows, Thomas Eakins, Edward Hopper, Jasper Johns, Philip Johnson, Franz Kline, and Gilbert Stuart. The library also has books on specific types of art, such as American Realism, folk art, architecture, and sculpture.
For something close to home, take a look at Selected Works by Gari Melchers from the Collection of Gari Melchers Home and Studio Falmouth, Virginia, edited by E. Susan Taylor-Schran and published in 2015. You’ll discover why Gari Melchers was an internationally renowned artist in his day.
If you want to keep abreast of what’s happening in today’s art scene, download ARTnews, one of our RBdigital eMagazines available at librarypoint.org/ebooks. Coverage includes profiles of artists and collectors, reviews of galleries and museum exhibitions, and behind-the-scenes access to auction houses and artists’ studios. It may be international in scope, but American artists are enthusiastically embraced.
Visit your library, and celebrate American artists!
This article first appeared in The Free Lance-Star newspaper.