To celebrate the season, we have a series of posts looking at images of summer in the Smithsonian photo archives and collections. To start things off, Mary Savig, Archives Specialist at the Archives of American Art, describes how artists recharged in the summer months. Like eager vacationers everywhere, artists have long escaped to the beach on hot summer days. The shore provided an invigorating environment free from the distractions and stress of cities. These sojourns also allowed artists, critics and writers to discuss their lives and art as they wiggled their toes in the sand. The Archives of American Art contains in its collections hundreds of snapshots of artists’ summer excursions. Explore this virtual photo album for a sampling. Modernist painters Konrad Cramer and Andrew Dasburg recline along a Provincetown, Massachusetts beach with journalist and prominent Communist leader, John Reed. Provincetown was an intellectually stimulating gathering place for poets, artists and writers from New York. Abstract Expressionist painters Jackson Pollock and Lee Krasner worked in a studio in East Hampton, just a short distance from the beach. On this occasion, they were joined by fellow painter Helen Frankenthaler and influential critic Clement Greenberg. All of the artists shared the technique championed by Greenberg of dripping, pouring or flicking paint against large canvases. Perhaps the rhythmic crashing of the waves reminded the artists of their own dramatic gestures performed while painting; after all, it was Pollock who famously stated, "I am nature." The summer sun and sandy beaches also enticed artists to concentrate fully on their work. Rather than sending emails from a lawn chair, they set up easels and tripods along picturesque vistas. Photographer Brett Weston spent hours along the craggy beaches of California to capture images of waves and clouds. Friend and painter Harry Bowden took this snapshot of Weston as he balanced himself and his camera on rocks to snap the perfect shot. Provincetown was home to the Cape Cod School of Art, founded in 1889 by Charles Webster Hawthorne. This was one of the nation’s first summer schools to hold classes outdoors. Students painted en plein air, or in the open air, along boardwalks and beaches. Other schools began cropping up as it became more popular for students and teachers to leave their city studios for an energizing destination each summer. Watercolorist Millard Sheets was a keen observer of people and the environment. He drew from the vibrancy of the California sunshine as he painted a model on a timeworn boat. His paintings were modernist for his time, but his technique of painting en plein air was classic. Beach settings proved inspirational to a dynamic mix of artists working in abstraction, figuration or photography. The communal environment also instigated critical thinking and advanced life-long friendships. Renewal and reconnection are vacation goals shared by us all as we head off for our vacations. Just remember to bring a camera!
Mary Savig of the Smithsonian Archives of American Art