Ralph Fasanella: Lest We Forget
3rd floor North, American Art Museum
(8th and F Streets, N.W.)
May 2, 2014 – August 3, 2014
- Attend exhibition-related public programs
Ralph Fasanella (1914-1997) celebrated the common man and tackled complex issues of postwar America in colorful, socially-minded paintings. Ralph Fasanella: Lest We Forget celebrates the 100th anniversary of the artist’s birth and brings together key works from a career spanning fifty-two years. Fasanella was born in the Bronx and grew up in the working-class neighborhoods of New York. He became a tireless advocate for laborers’ rights, first as a union organizer and later as a painter.
Fasanella’s parents were among three million Italians who immigrated to America in the early twentieth-century in search of a better life. They taught their son about both the costs and rewards of hard work. As a child, Fasanella labored with his father on an ice delivery route; long hours on tough streets. His mother made sure he encountered people whose lives were harder than their own and taught him the value of empathy and respect. The most lasting lessons he learned from his parents were that family and community came before personal gain, that younger generations stood on the shoulders of those who came before them, and that all Americans could—and should—always fight for their rights.
Fasanella worked in the garment industry, as a truck driver, ice delivery man, union organizer and gas station owner before he committed himself to painting in 1945. Untrained as an artist, Fasanella developed an astute and accessible style that reflected his affiliation with and commitment to the working class. His alternately subtle and brash paintings functioned simultaneously as memorial documents, didactic tools, and rallying cries and they made the possibility of a better society palpable to his own community and others like it. Fasanella is often remembered for his iconic admonition: “Lest We Forget,” an impassioned plea to remember and honor the legacies of our forebears.
After closing in Washington, D.C., the exhibition travels to the American Folk Art Museum in New York City where it will be on view in time to commemorate Fasanella’s Labor Day birthday.
Ralph Fasanella: Lest We Forget is organized by the Smithsonian American Art Museum with generous support from Tania and Tom Evans, Herbert Waide Hemphill, Jr. American Folk Art Fund, and Paula and Peter Lunder.
April 26, 2014, 4 p.m., 21st Century Consort: Just Folk
May 2, 2014, 6:30 p.m. Exhibition Discussion with curator Leslie Umberger and donor Marc Fasanella
May 10, 2014, 11:30 a.m. – 3 p.m., Mother’s Day Family Celebration