Engine House and Bunkers

Austin Mecklem, Engine House and Bunkers, 1934, oil on canvas, Smithsonian American Art Museum, Transfer from the U.S. Department of Labor, 1964.1.46
Copied Austin Mecklem, Engine House and Bunkers, 1934, oil on canvas, 3850 14 in. (96.5127.6 cm.), Smithsonian American Art Museum, Transfer from the U.S. Department of Labor, 1964.1.46

Artwork Details

Engine House and Bunkers
Not on view
3850 14 in. (96.5127.6 cm.)
Credit Line
Transfer from the U.S. Department of Labor
Mediums Description
oil on canvas
  • Landscape — bird’s eye view
  • Architecture — vehicle — train
  • Architecture — industry — railroad yard
  • Architecture — industry — factory
  • Architecture — machine — engine
Object Number

Artwork Description

Storm clouds blow and rain pelts down on the busy Hudson River port and rail hub of Kingston, New York. Artist Austin Mecklem lived in rural Woodstock, New York, but when the Public Works of Art Project called for artists to paint "the American Scene," he left his serene home to depict this gritty view of Kingston's shipping activity. The complex of dock cranes, warehouses, and steam trains struck the artist as characteristic of American life in the 1930s. He showed the scene in tones of red, green, gray that stress the industrial might of men and machines moving freight.

Mecklem detailed his composition in a letter to Juliana Force, chairman of the New York Regional Committee of the PWAP:

"For subject matter I have chosen a familiar railroad scene with strong dramatic possibilities. It includes machine-shops—[an] engine house—bunkers—roundtable—water-tank and tracks stretching into the middle distance where a river and the buildings of a small town are discernable. The buildings in the foreground arrange in an angular pattern contrasted by the horizontal feeling of the town structures and the river bank, emphasizing the dynamic aspect of the scene. Distant hills faintly seen through a rain-swept sky complete the composition."

1934: A New Deal for Artists exhibition label

Luce Center Label

This painting shows a station in a busy industrial city, with curved railway lines leading in and out of the buildings. The smoke from the factories and engines fills the sky and creates a hazy view of the factories and workers' houses in the distance. The freight trains, smoke stack, and crane symbolize new growth and construction and, together with the warm colors, evoke a thriving, productive metropolis. Austin Mecklem emphasized this energy by incorporating many spiraling forms, from the radiating train tracks and conical silo roof to the glowing edges of clouds arcing in the sky.

Related Books

1934: A New Deal for Artists
During the Great Depression, president Franklin Delano Roosevelt promised a “new deal for the American people,” initiating government programs to foster economic recovery. Roosevelt’s pledge to help “the forgotten man” also embraced America’s artists. The Public Works of Art Project (PWAP) enlisted artists to capture “the American Scene” in works of art that would embellish public buildings across the country. Although it lasted less than one year, from December 1933 to June 1934, the PWAP provided employment for thousands of artists, giving them an important role in the country’s recovery. Their legacy, captured in more than fifteen thousand artworks, helped “the American Scene” become America seen.