A disciple of American realism, Thain’s work carried on the tradition of the Ashcan School with its subjects from everyday city life, while anticipating the urban manifestation of the American Scene movement of the 1930s. His paintings often convey the stillness, anonymity, and architectonic solidity of Edward Hopper’s urban views of the period. However, Thain ranged over a greater variety of moods and subjects. He recorded the city’s gleaming architecture, its transportation hubs, its gathering places, and their inhabitants. His work ranges from subtle irony in his views of affluent New Yorkers in opulent settings, to carefree humor as he sketched city kids entertaining each other with backyard vaudevillian antics.
The New-York Historical Society holds a large group of Thain’s paintings, and this selection is vividly brought to life with ephemera from New York in the 1920s, such as menus and sheet music, along with prominent writers’ reflections on the city during a period of cultural and social change.
When war broke out in 1939, New York was a cosmopolitan, heavily immigrant city, whose people had real stakes in the global conflict and strongly held opinions about whether or not to intervene. The attack on Pearl Harbor in 1941 brought the U.S. into the war, and New York became the principal port of embarkation for the warfront. The presence of troops, the inflow of refugees, the wartime industries, the dispatch of fleets, and the dissemination of news and propaganda from media outlets, changed New York, giving its customary commercial and creative bustle a military flavor. Likewise, the landscape of the city acquired a martial air, as defenses in the harbor were bolstered, old forts were updated, and the docks became high security zones.
The exhibition examines the experiences of New Yorkers on the home front and those who served. In New York City, workers mobilized to assist in wartime production, from shipbuilding at the Brooklyn Navy Yard to uniform manufacturing at Brooks Brothers. Families grew victory gardens and dealt with the challenges of rationing. Military training camps sprang up throughout the city, and nightclubs and theaters opened their doors to the droves of servicemen passing through. Each day in the crowded port a logistical miracle occurred. Sixty-three million tons of supplies and 3,300,000 men shipped out from New York Harbor—at war’s height, a ship left every 15 minutes. 900,000 New Yorkers served in the military; twelve of their stories are told through individual profiles, and in a 20-minute film shot by a Signal Corps combat cameraman trained in Queens.
Installed throughout all floors of the New-York Historical Society, the exhibition features more than 400 images and objects, including artifacts, paintings, maps, photographs, posters, music, radio broadcasts, and thirteen short films made for the exhibit, many featuring interviews with actual participants. The exhibition draws upon extensive collections at the New-York Historical Society and on important loans from the US Navy, the Museum of WWII, Boston, the Smithsonian Institution, the Mariners’ Museum, and the Metropolitan Museum of Art, among other institutions.
War for Civil Rights describes a “Double V” campaign waged by African Americans during WWII, which argued that the black men and women who fought for victory abroad deserved full civil rights and victory over racism at home. The exhibit, comprised of photographs, posters, and two new short films, focuses on three aspects of the Double V campaign in New York City: the Negro Freedom Rallies; the fight against Red Cross blood segregation; and the effort to integrate the Stuyvesant Town housing development.
GI Sketch Diary: Ben Brown’s World War II Drawings features the artwork of Bronx-raised Ben Brown, a corporal who fought in North Africa and in the bitter and bloody Italian campaign. Brown carried sketchbooks with him throughout his time on the front. The sketches seen in this exhibit—a fraction of the art Brown produced during the war— illustrates his experiences and the people and places he encountered.
Robert H. and Clarice Smith New York Gallery of American History
Several World War II-related displays can be found in The Robert H. and Clarice Smith New York Gallery of American History. Small objects from the home front, including jewelry, matchbooks, and games, are on view in cases embedded in the floor. Six video columns feature a slideshow of images, including battlefront photographs, recruitment posters, patriotic textiles, among others. And the monumental History Showcase exhibit displays wartime uniforms and related posters.
Visualizing Liberty and Democracy: The Four Freedoms, December 14, 2012 through January 1, 2013. Almost a year before the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor that propelled the United States into World War II, President Franklin D. Roosevelt addressed Congress in a State of the Union speech. The president spoke of threatened international security and articulated the hope for a new world order founded upon four essential human freedoms: the freedom of speech and expression; the freedom of worship; the freedom from want; and the freedom from fear. The Four Freedoms, as they immediately came to be known, provided a facile explanation to Americans about their country’s ultimate participation in the war. Yet by 1942, only one-third of the public was familiar with what they were. Unable to serve his country in other ways, the artist Norman Rockwell became driven to illustrate Roosevelt’s vision. The Manhattan-born, Vermont transplant specialized in commercially popular, sentimental scenes of small-town life, and his four paintings of each “freedom” were no exception. Rockwell’s series succeeded in making the American public visualize Roosevelt’s lofty rhetoric, and helped them to understand what the world was fighting for. Today, The Four Freedoms endure as four of Norman Rockwell’s most iconic works, and also offer a lesson in World War II ideology and propaganda.
A display in the Luce Center highlights the role of the New-York Historical Society during WWII. The exhibit includes information and objects from staff members who went to war; ephemera and photographs from wartime exhibitions; acquisitions collected during and after the war; and insight into the changes made throughout the museum to adapt to the war.
WWII & NYC was made possible, in part, by:
Bernard & Irene Schwartz
The Peter Jay Sharp Foundation
May and Samuel Rudin Family Foundation, Inc.
Eric & Fiona Rudin
Jack & Susan Rudin
Elizabeth B. Dater & Wm. Mitchell Jennings, Jr.
Ruth & Harold Newman
Laurie & Sy Sternberg
The Weiler Family
This program is supported, in part, by public funds from the New York City Department
of Cultural Affairs, in partnership with the City Council.
The New-York Historical Society is grateful to New York City Councilmember
Gale A. Brewer for her support.
Support for the exhibition publication was generously provided by
Futhermore: a program of the J.M. Kaplan Fund
An exhibition of 83 photographs documenting some of the most significant buildings and public parks in New York City will be on view at The New-York Historical Society from April 30 through July 12, 2009, in the exhibition Landmarks of New York. The exhibition has traveled to 82 countries under the sponsorship of the United States Department of State since 2006 and is now coming home to New York for its final showing. The photographs in the exhibition will then enter the collection of the New-York Historical Society, through a donation from the exhibition's curator, Barbaralee Diamonstein-Spielvogel.
"Among American cities, New York is the leader in the preservation of its landmarks, and in the range and quality of its surviving architectural resources. The abundance and variety of these buildings is surprising, ranging from the best efforts of our finest architects, to excellent examples of vernacular building types," said Barbaralee Diamonstein-Spielvogel. "It is an architectural record that touches upon every aspect of life. Hidden within this great metropolis is evidence of our proudest achievements: the taverns and farms of the eighteenth century; the factories, banks and offices of the nineteenth; and three centuries of urban housing that speaks to the needs of every group—from the modest to the well-to-do. In its twentieth-century civic buildings, factories, office towers, universities, museums, parks, and houses of worship, one will find the history of New York's citizenry written large in buildings that express their most noble aspirations and deepest values."
Each of the photographs in Landmarks of New York is accompanied by historic descriptive text about the landmark and its significance to the social fabric of New York. The photographs, selected from more than 1,224 landmarks designated between 1965 and March 2009, includes buildings constructed between 1640 and 1967. Some notable examples (photographed by Jeanne Hamilton, Christine Osinski, Michael Kingsford , Michael Stewart , Courtesy the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, Christopher D. Brazee and Tony Gonzales) include Bowne House (1661) in Queens, and in Manhattan, City Hall (1803-12), Chrysler Building (1928-30), Empire State Building (1930-31), Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum and Interior (1956-59), One Chase Manhattan Plaza (1957) and Ford Foundation Building (1963-1967).
"It is fitting that Landmarks of New York should complete its international tour at the New-York Historical Society," said Louise Mirrer, President and CEO of the Historical Society. "New York's architecture is recognized around the world, and the Historical Society is proud to document its evolution."
"We are thrilled to add the photographs from the exhibition to our collection," said Marilyn Kushner, New-York Historical Society Curator and Head, Department of Prints, Photographs and Architectural Collections. "Architects, architectural historians and preservationists use the Historical Society's resources as they design, restore, and renovate. The addition of these photographs greatly enhances our collection."
New York City has been a leader among American cities in preserving the architectural past. Its landmarked buildings and parks tell a story that dates from the taverns and farm houses of the eighteenth century to the warehouses, offices, and grand residences of the nineteenth century to the skyscrapers, museums and parks of the twentieth century. More than 25,000 buildings in the five boroughs of New York City have been granted landmark status, including 1,215 individual landmarks, 110 interior landmarks, 10 scenic landmarks and 92 historic districts.
The exhibit was originally conceived to commemorate the 40th anniversary of the passage of the New York City Landmarks Law, and embodies the spirit of the City as seen through its built environment. "That in the four years since this exhibit was originally mounted, nearly 30 percent of these distinguished structures have undergone significant renovation or important additions, approved by the Commission, testifies to the New York City Landmarks Law's ability to grow with, and adapt to, a buildings needs and that Landmarks are far from frozen in time," observed Ms. Diamonstein-Spielvogel. Click here to watch Landmarks of New York on WNET/Thirteen’s SundayArts!