January 8th, 2008
If someone is keeping track of West Virginia’s best-kept secrets, somewhere near the top of that list is probably a line about the mountain state’s rich artistic heritage. West Virginia has been home to several acclaimed artists; its people and its rolling hills have been the subjects of thousands of paintings.
Some of those painters and their works will be the focus of a presentation at 7 p.m. Tuesday, Jan. 15, in the Norman L. Fagan West Virginia State Theatre at the Cultural Center, State Capitol Complex.
“It’s a topic that has often been overlooked,” said John Cuthbert, Curator of the West Virginia and Regional History Collection at the WVU Libraries. “Any time I talk before a group about West Virginia’s fine arts heritage, people are always shocked to learn how much significant fine art heritage this state has.”
The program, hosted by West Virginia First Lady Gayle Manchin, is part of a series of lectures and performances by students and faculty from WVU and Marshall University. It is free and open to the public.
During his 50-minute presentation, Cuthbert plans to spotlight portrait and landscape artists from the late 18th to early 20th centuries, including David Hunter Strother, Blanche Lazzell, Leslie Thrasher, and Thomas Anshutz.
A Martinsburg native, Strother’s pseudonym, “Porte Crayon,” became a household name during the 1850s through his illustrated travelogues which appeared regularly in Harpers Monthly. Lazzell, a Morgantown native and WVU alumna, won international acclaim for her avant-garde work. Thrasher, a Piedmont native, illustrated the covers of leading magazines like Liberty and the Saturday Evening Post and earned comparisons to Norman Rockwell.
Although he was not a West Virginia native, Anshutz was closely connected to Wheeling where his mother was born. The town served as a backdrop to many of his paintings. His most famous work, “Steelworkers at Noontime,” received both criticism and praise for its accurate portrayal of Wheeling steelworkers taking a lunch break.
Although critics originally considered the painting to be vulgar and grotesque, it has since been broadly recognized by American art historians as one of the most important paintings in American art history and a pivotal example in the evolution of social realist painting in America, Cuthbert explained.
“It depicted the grit of true American life as opposed to elevated perceptions of elegance and beauty,” he said.
Anshutz is just the tip of the iceberg. The presentation will unveil several other enlightening and colorful stories about this lesser-known aspect of West Virginia’s history.
“Everyone is always amazed to learn about the number of leading artists who had connections to the state,” he said.
Cuthbert holds both a masters and doctoral degrees from WVU. He is the author of several books including Early Art and Artists in West Virginia which was published by the WVU Press in 2000.
For more information about the lecture, contact Jacqueline Proctor, deputy commissioner of the State Division of Culture and History, at (304) 558-0220.