The Story Behind the Work

Friday, March 13, 2009

One of many cold-weather scenes in "1934: A New Deal for Artists" is Harry Gottlieb's "Filling the Ice House." Set in Upstate New York, it looks, at first glance, like an almost Soviet-style celebration of The Worker. In this case, laborers who, as their forefathers had done for more than a century, are seen harvesting huge blocks of lake ice to be stored for use, during the summer months, in Manhattan iceboxes.

Except that, by the 1930s, the rise of artificial refrigeration was making businesses like this one obsolete.

Gottlieb, in other words, wasn't simply touting American hard work. Arguably, his picture can be said to lament the decline of an industry, much as an artist today might do by painting pictures of a Detroit auto plant.

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