Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Weathering the Storm: Inside Winslow Homer's Gulf Stream by Peter H. Wood

I met Peter H. Wood a few years ago, during the planning stages of America I AM. He was part of two of the scholarly panels that we convened to flesh out new ideas for the exhibit. While we were in New York, we would get breakfast early before each day's meeting began. He was very friendly and easy going. On the last day we were there, he gave me two of his books: Strange New Land and Weathering the Storm.

Peter H. Wood is not a formally-trained art historian, but his long term interests in race relations and in American painting led him to collaborate with art historian Karen Dalton in 1988 on an exhibition and a related book, Winslow Homer's Images of Blacks. Continuing this line of research and writing, Wood wrote an exploratory paper about Winslow Homer's watercolor The Gulf Stream. This was the basis for his book Weathering the Storm. Wood contends that "Winslow Homer's works generally, and The Gulf Stream specifically, take on richer and deeper meaning when viewed through the prism of history."

The book is divided into three equal parts. Wood begins with an analysis of the reviews and critiques of The Gulf Stream, detailing how they changed from 1899 until it was purchased years later by the Metropolitan Museum of Art. He also provides some background on the painter. Next, Wood provides some context--geographical, personal, political, and social--for the time that Homer completed The Gulf Stream. Wood finishes his analysis of this painting with a long look back toward slavery. Much of his career as a historian has been devoted to slavery and issues of race. As a result, this third section is excellent.

Drawing from the life of Winslow Homer, the time in which he lived, and the history that informed that time; Wood creates a new and compelling interpretation of Winslow Homer's most recognizable painting. He invites you to stop and linger in front of The Gulf Stream.

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