The Blockmaker

  • Edgar Melville Ward, The Blockmaker, n.d., oil on canvas, Smithsonian American Art Museum, Gift of William T. Evans, 1912.2.1

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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).

The Blockmaker
On View
25 3/8 x 21 1/4 in. (64.4 x 53.9 cm.)
Credit Line

Smithsonian American Art Museum

Gift of William T. Evans

Mediums Description
oil on canvas
  • Object – tool – lathe
  • Architecture Interior – commercial – store
  • Object – tool – axe
  • Object – furniture – stool
  • Occupation – craft – woodworker
  • Figure male – full length
Object Number
Linked Open Data
Linked Open Data URI

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ca. 1840
oil on canvas
ca. 1840
oil on canvas