John Henry

  • Frederick Brown, John Henry, 1979, oil on canvas, Smithsonian American Art Museum, Gift of Gerald L. Pearson, 1995.22.1, © 1979, Frederick J. Brown

Exhibition Label
John Henry tells a story of pathos and protest that lives in the folklore and ballads of America. Countless versions exist, but all of them speak of a slave freed at the end of the Civil War who worked for the C&O Railway and possessed near superhuman strength. Brown, who grew up in a blue-collar neighborhood near the steel mills in South Chicago, blends elements of the original John Henry legend with the lives of contemporary steelworkers concerned about layoffs when the American steel industry began outsourcing jobs abroad. Like the narrator in a Greek tragedy, he has linked the story with contemporary experience.


African American Art: Harlem Renaissance, Civil Rights Era, and Beyond, 2012
Title
John Henry
Artist
Date
1979
Location
Not on view
Dimensions
84 x 60 1/8 in. (213.4 x 152.7 cm.)
Credit Line

Smithsonian American Art Museum

Gift of Gerald L. Pearson

Mediums
Mediums Description
oil on canvas
Classifications
Keywords
  • Animal – dog
  • Landscape – celestial – sun
  • Animal – bird – parrot
  • Portrait male – Henry, John
Object Number
1995.22.1
Palette
Linked Open Data
Linked Open Data URI

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