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Tribute to the American Working People

1951 Honoré Sharrer Born: West Point, New York 1920 Died: Washington, District of Columbia 2009 oil on composition board overall: 38 3/4 x 77 1/4 in. (98.5 x 196.2 cm) Smithsonian American Art Museum Gift of the Sara Roby Foundation 1986.6.97 Not currently on view


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Tribute to the American Working People

Luce Center Quote

"In this picture I painted ordinary people . . . it is these distinguished-undistinguished players that moved and interested me." Artist's statement, 1979

Luce Center Label

Honoré Sharrer's Tribute questions the future of working people in post--World War II America. The five-panel composition recalls medieval altarpieces, which often show an image of a saint surrounded by illustrations of his or her life. Here, the "saint" is a typical working man, who stands in front of a nineteenth-century factory with the faces of his workmates peering through arched windows behind. The framed design repeats this pattern of windows, as if we are looking from one factory building to another. In the 1930s, Americans celebrated working people to boost morale and speed the country's recovery from the Depression. But during World War II, labor activism fell by the wayside, and Sharrer painted this image in 1951 to record what she saw as the workers' "final bow." (Doss, "Sharrer's Tribute to the American Working People," American Art, Fall 2002) The four smaller images---Country Fair, In the Parlor, Farm Scene, and Public School---show different moments in everyday life. In one sense, these episodes capture the spirit of play and the human comfort of community. But Sharrer's workers and children stand and look out at the viewer, as if some cold reality had brought them up short and they are uncertain of what to do next.

To view an interactive asset for this painting, visit the Archives of American Art's Anatomy of a Painting.

Keywords

Figure(s) in exterior - farm

Figure(s) in interior - education

Miscellaneous - homage - American Working People

Occupation - farm - harvesting

Occupation - industry

Recreation - leisure - conversation

painting

paint - oil

wood - composition board