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The Blockmaker

n.d. Edgar Melville Ward Born: Urbana, Ohio 1839 Died: New York, New York 1915 oil on canvas 25 3/8 x 21 1/4 in. (64.4 x 53.9 cm.) Smithsonian American Art Museum Gift of William T. Evans 1912.2.1 Smithsonian American Art Museum
Luce Foundation Center, 3rd Floor, 14B


Luce Center Label

This painting of a craftsman in his studio was one of many images of elderly, independent artisans at work that flourished on the American art market in the last decades of the nineteenth century. Blockmakers specialized in making pulley blocks for ships, and several oval-shaped wooden blocks appear on the worktable. As factory work grew in the United States, such images captured a concern among many Americans that the handworkers and their trades were growing obsolete. These once cherished artisans were too old to survive the life of a factory worker, and as a 1908 McClure’s article stated bluntly, “The old man today . . . slow, hesitating, frequently half-blind and deaf, is sadly misplaced amid the death dealing machinery . . .” (Shapiro, “Machine Crafted: The Image of the Artisan in American Genre Painting, 1877-1908,” PhD diss., 2003).

Keywords

Architecture Interior - commercial - store

Figure male - full length

Object - furniture - stool

Object - tool - axe

Object - tool - lathe

Occupation - craft - woodworker

painting

paint - oil

fabric - canvas

About Edgar Melville Ward

Born: Urbana, Ohio 1839 Died: New York, New York 1915