Drawing on the Susquehanna :
Four Centuries of Artistic Inspiration and Commerce

 

 

Curated by Rob Evans

Overview:  This exhibit examines the influence of the Susquehanna River as an artistic muse and commercial driver for prominent American artists who, over several centuries, explored the river’s shores and utilized its imagery as part of a greater initiative to promote the American landscape. These artists worked in a diverse range of media often experimenting with some of the newest technologies of the day including wood, copper and steel engravings; hand colored lithographs and chromolithographs; etchings; transfer decorated china; and paintings and drawings. Many of the prints were used to illustrate elaborately bound over-sized coffee table books and portfolios which marketed the American landscape as a picturesque destination, and are displayed in the exhibit alongside actual copies of the books in which they appeared. In all, the exhibit presents a unique portrait of a single subject over four centuries, documenting, through the eyes of artists, the Susquehanna's many moods and manifestations, as well as the progression of human habitation and development along its shores.

 

Background: For nearly four decades artist and independent curator Rob Evans has lived, raised a family and worked in his studio on a ridge overlooking the Susquehanna River in eastern York County, PA. Evans' ties to the Susquehanna run deep as both his parents were raised along its shores, his mother on adjoining property to his farm, and his father further upriver near Wilkes Barre, PA. Most of Evans' paintings and drawings depict the Susquehanna River Valley landscape and its flora/fauna, whether metaphorically or through direct observation.

 

In 2005 Evans embarked on a curatorial project to explore his roots as a Susquehanna painter and the resulting traveling exhibit, "Visions of the Susquehanna: 250 Years of Paintings by American Masters," featured works by such renowned American landscape painters as Benjamin West, Joshua Shaw, Thomas Doughty, Sanford Gifford, Thomas Moran, Jasper Cropsey, George Inness, and Charles Demuth among others.

 

While Visions of the Susquehanna focused primarily on major studio paintings intended for exhibit in expositions and which eventually disappeared into the homes of wealthy private collectors, Drawing on the Susquehanna takes a slightly different angle, exploring the artists direct engagement with their public through the dissemination of their work via commercial partnerships with various industries and businesses, utilizing the most current printing technologies available to them. Through mass publication worldwide in maps, books, portfolios, journals, magazines, newspapers and decorated china they not only self-promoted but helped make the Susquehanna one of the most popular and well known rivers worldwide along with its sister east coast river, the Hudson. Even before the Hudson River School of landscape painting took shape, the Susquehanna played a role in influencing and inspiring some of the first truly American artists, writers and poets. Although no formal "Susquehanna School" of painters has ever been delineated, this exhibit argues that such an influential school has taken shape over the last several centuries and continues to this day.

Display case featuring Bartlett's American Scenery

Drawing on the Susquehanna on view at the Historic Hellam Preserve

 

 

Timothy Barr (b. 1957)

Petroglyphs at Safe Harbor

oil on panel, 2018

collection of "Visions of the Susquehanna Art Collection," Susquehanna National Heritage Area

The First Artists of the Susquehanna

 

The first true artists of the Susquehanna were the Native American inhabitants, including the Algonquins and Susquehannocks, who settled in the area centuries before the first European explorers reached its shores. The landscape they knew was vastly different: mountains covered in great expanses of virgin chestnut and pine forests teaming with wild elk, moose, bison and huge flocks of Passenger Pigeons and parrots, the shallow river overflowing with Shad.

 

 

 

Matthaus Merian the Elder (1593 - 1650)

John Smith Map of Virginia

From Theodore De Bry's "Grand Voyages"

copper plate engraving with hand coloring, 1627

 

 

Artist unknown

A View on the Juniata River

From August 1788 issue of "Columbian Magazine"

copper plate engraving, 1788

 

 

Arnoldus Montanus (1625 - 1683)

Sasquesahanok

From "A New and Unknown World: A Description of America"

copper plate engraving with letterpress, 1673

 

 

George Cooke (1781 - 1834)

Wright's Ferry on the Susquehanna, Pennsylvania

engraving with aquatint, 1812

 

 

After John H. B. Latrobe (1803 - 1891)

Sky in Stormy Weather - Falls of the Susquehanna Above Columbia

From Fielding Lucas' "Progressive Drawing Book"

hand colored engraving with aquatint, 1827

 

 

After John H. B. Latrobe (1803 - 1891)

Dark Foreground - View on the Susquehanna

From Fielding Lucas' "Progressive Drawing Book"

hand colored engraving with aquatint, 1827

 

 

After Abner Reeder (1766 - 1841)

An Attempt to Burn John Harris

lithograph with hand coloring, 1839

 

 

After Thomas Doughty (1793 - 1856)

Banks of the Juniata

From "The Token"

engraving, 1830

 

 

After Joseph Mallord William Turner  (1755 - 1851)

The Waterfall - Gertrude of Wyoming

From "Poetical Works of Thomas Campbell"

engraving, 1837

 

 

After Thomas Cole (1801 - 1848)

The Headwaters of the Juniata, Allegheny Mountains, Pennsylvania

From John Howard Hinton's "History and Topography of the United States"

steel plate engraving, 1831

 

 

After William H. Bartlett (1809 - 1854)

Columbia Bridge (on the Susquehanna)

blue transferware ceramic pitcher produced by

William Ridgway and Sons, Stffordshire, England, c.1844

 

 

After Thomas Cole (1801 - 1848)

The Headwaters of the Juniata

red transferware ceramic soup plate produced by

William Adams and Sons, Staffordshire, England, c.1831 - 61

 

 

After William H. Bartlett (1809 - 1854)

Columbia Bridge (on the Susquehanna)

From Bartlett's "American Scenery"

steel plate engraving, 1838

 

 

Emma Catherine Embury (1806 - 1863)

Nature's Gems - American Wildflowers in their Native Haunts

First edition, with illustrations by Edwin Whitefield

published by Appleton, NY, 1845

 

 

Edwin Whitefield (1816 - 1892)

Study for Title Page of "Nature's Gems"

pencil and watercolor, 1845

 

 

After Edwin Whitefield (1816 - 1892)

various plates from "Nature's Gems - American Wildflowers in Their Native Haunts" featuring the Susquehanna River in the background,

all hand colored chromolithographs, 1845

 

 

After George Catlin (1796 - 1872)

Water Hunting For Deer, A Night Scene on the River Susquehanna, Pennsylvania

From April 11, 1857 issue of the "Illustrated London News"

wood engraving, 1857

 

 

After Thomas Moran (1837 - 1926)

View From the Bluffs at Catawissa

From June, 1862 issue of the "Harpers Monthly Magazine"

wood engraving, 1862

 

 

After Albert Berghaus (active 1860 - 1880)

Occupation of Wrightsville, Pa., by Lees Army...

From July 18, 1863 issue of  "Frank Leslie's Illustrated Newspaper"

wood engraving, 1863

 

 

After Jasper F. Cropsey (1823 - 1900)

American Autumn, Starucca Valley, Erie R. Road

signed by the artist

19 color chromolithograph, c.1867

 

 

After Granville Perkins (1830 - 1895)

The Susquehanna (at Hunter's Gap)

From William Cullen Bryant's "Picturesque America"

steel plate engraving, 1873

 

 

After George H. Smillie (1840 - 1921)

On the Susquehanna (Near Great Bend, NY)

From "Gallery of Landscape Painters - American Scenery"

steel plate engraving, 1869

 

 

Nathaniel Currier (1813 - 1888) and James Ives (1824 - 1895)

The Valley of the Susquehanna

large folio, hand colored lithograph, c.1870s

 

 

Julius Augustus Beck (1831 - 1917)

Chickies Rock

watercolor, c.1898

 

 

John L. Lehman (1916 - 2012)

Construction of the Route 30 Bridge (on the Susquehanna)

oil on canvas, c.1970

 

 

Otto Kuhler (1894 - 1977)

Harnessing the Susquehanna: Safe Harbor Dam

etching, 1930

 

 

Rob Evans (b. 1959)

Migration

digital pigment print, 2005

© 2018 by Rob Evans