Wreck of the Old 97
10 1/4 x 14 7/8 in. (26 x 37.8 cm)
Thomas Hart Benton,
Medium and Support:
Gift of Mrs. Richard Crampton
Label for "American Scenes: WPA-Era Prints from the 1930s and 1940s", La Salle University Art Museum, March 12- May 30, 2014:
Thomas Hart Benton was born in Missouri, studied in Chicago and Paris, and began his artistic career in New York City, where he lived and worked for over twenty years, though he is most famously associated with the American Midwest. In 1935 he returned to Missouri and accepted a teaching position at the Kansas City Art Institute. Benton is considered a pioneer in the Regionalist art movement. He illustrated common scenes of rural American life, promoting a sense of nostalgic nationalism and familiar appeal to middle class Americans in the 1930s and 1940s.
Southern Railroad’s mail train no. 97 derailed while en route from Monroe, VA, to Spencer, NC, on September 27, 1903. The event inspired balladeers and country music singers. “Everybody knows the song,” Benton wrote, “cowboys sing it, people who live in the southern Appalachians sing it, as well as those who live in the Ozarks and out on the prairie farms. It has even found its way to the fishing coasts of New England.” Benton initially drew the subject in 1926-27 and created the lithograph in 1944. The artist imagines a scene in which the speeding locomotive nearly collides with horse and cart, literally contrasting the dark steam and steel of progress against the pure white working animal and simple spokes of the cart’s wheels.
Rebecca Oviedo, M.A. '16
Collections Manager/Registrar, La Salle University Art Museum