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Life in America

Experience scenes of everyday life in the United States—people taming the wilderness, migrating West, moving from farms to cities, working in industry, struggling through the Great Depression and World War II, fighting for civil rights reform, and enjoying leisure activities. "Life in America" brings these vivid dramas to your doorstep!


By comparing and contrasting artists' interpretations of different eras, participants explore and discuss our shared past. For example, life in the West is shown at various periods. In the 1830s, before the invention of the camera, artist George Catlin set out to document the customs of Native American tribes in the Great Plains, an area that was then the "West." Later western life is captured in California, when artists such as Charles Nahl and August Wenderoth depicted a mining camp after gold was discovered. These and other artworks provoke discussion about westward migration of U.S. citizens—its causes and cultural assumptions—and its effect on American Indians and the environment.


Moreover, Life in America illustrates the transition from farm life to a fast-paced urban society—replete with technical wonders such as skyscrapers, great bridges, and subways. The opulent Gilded Age contrasts with the trying years of the Great Depression and the devastation of the Dust Bowl.


Multicultural viewpoints add complexity and richness to the contemporary period. As African Americans struggled for civil rights, Jacob Lawrence and Horace Pippin shared their singular perspectives, while other artists responded to the Chicano movement and efforts to preserve Native American culture.

In this presentation, enjoy stunning art reproductions and gain a new appreciation for the varied texture of American history and culture.

Pictured top: George Catlin, Catlin and His Indian Guide Approaching Buffalo under White Wolf Skins, 1846–48, oil, 20 x 27 1/8 in., Smithsonian American Art Museum, Gift of Mrs. Joseph Harrison Jr.

Pictured second: Lily Furedi, Subway, about 1934, oil, 39 x 48 1/4 in., Smithsonian American Art Museum, Transfer from the U.S. Department of the Interior, National Park Service

Pictured bottom: Jacob Lawrence, Firewood #55, 1942, gouache, ink and watercolor, 22 3/4 x 31 in., Smithsonian American Art Museum, Transfer from the U.S. Information Agency