Chain Gang

Media - 1967.59.675 - SAAM-1967.59.675_1 - 81353
Copied William H. Johnson, Chain Gang, ca. 1939, oil on plywood, Smithsonian American Art Museum, Gift of the Harmon Foundation, 1967.59.675

Artwork Details

Title
Chain Gang
Date
ca. 1939
Dimensions
45 3438 12 in. (116.297.7 cm.)
Credit Line
Gift of the Harmon Foundation
Mediums
Mediums Description
oil on plywood
Classifications
Keywords
  • Occupation — crime
  • African-American
  • Landscape — road
  • State of being — evil — imprisonment
  • Figure group
  • African American
Object Number
1967.59.675

Artwork Description

In this painting, enormous hands hold scythes, pickaxes, and shovels, symbolizing the brutal work of the chain gang. Johnson may have seen men like this when he was a child in South Carolina, but he might also have chosen this subject while working for the Works Progress Administration, where archivists worked to preserve the stories and songs of the gangs.