Ralph Larmann

Art Department

University of Evansville

back to: Chapter 7 Art in the Americas

Bird Mask
20th C.
Pacific Northwest, US

Pottery Head
ceramic sculpture
c. 1200 AD
Cahokia Mounds, Illinois, US

Pyramid of the Sun
100 BC to 650 AD


It is widely believed that native people migrated across what is now the Bering Strait about 10,000 years ago. Because of plentiful wild game, many groups continued to hunt and and were generally nomadic. Consequently, works by native peoples of the Americas often reflects the availability of necessary materials and its portability.

North American native peoples created images that derived from mythical stories and spiritual experiences. In the Pacific Northwest, images are derived from stories that define the people's cosmology. For instance, the story of Raven, a figure who shows up often in native American folklore, recounts how this trickster eventually delivers fire to Man. Among the Stoney peoples of central Canada, works of art are derived from visions that occur in a dream. It is widely believed that through these dreams one sees a work and is given the ability to make it rather than learning through some conscious knowledge process.

Mississipppian Culture dominated the central US. The Cahokia mounds near St. Louis and the local Angel Mounds are remnants of a civilization believed to be connected to a larger culture centered in Mexico. The native peoples of this region built large complexes and earthen mounds. Their artwork consisted of pottery, pipes, and other small artifacts

A significant non-nomadic civilization arose in Mexico around the same time as ancient Rome. The Mayan culture exerted broad influence on both Americas. The city of Teotihuacan was, in its time, the largest city in the world. here we find exceptional examples of architecture.

The Pyramids of the Sun and Moon are large structures reminiscent of Pyramids in Egypt and ziggurats of Mesopotamia. They do not appear to be burial places, but elevated places of worship. The city of Teotihuacan is built around these structures that are situated 35 miles northeast of Mexico City.

One other architectural site of note is the city of Macchu Picchu an Incan city built in the Andes mountains of Peru.

Paul Revere
Early Colonial US
John Singleton Copley

The Signing of the Declaration of Independence, July 4, 1776
Early Colonial US
John Trumbull


In early Colonial America influences from Europe began to meld with native and African artistic influences to create interesting hybrids. As Catholicism was spread by Spanish and French missionaries. Artworks emerged which were composites of experiences from these three cultural backgrounds.

Influence in the Colonies of England came primarily from the English Royal Academy.

John Singleton Copley
Paul Revere, 1770.
Watson and the Shark, 1771.

Benjamin West
Death of General Wolfe, 1770.
William Penn's Treaty with the Indians, 1771.

Peale Family:

Charles Wilson Peale
Washington and his Generals at Yorktown, 1781.

Raphaelle Peale
Venus Rising from the Sea, 1822.

Rembrandt Peale
George Washington, 1814.

John Trumbull
Signing of the Declaration of Independence, July 4, 1776, 1787-1820.

As the slave trade increased in the Spanish and English colonies, greater artistic influence from Africa became integrated into the cultures. One god of West Africa, Ogun (the hard god), represented iron and mercilessness. Cultures also merged to create hybrid images and religions. The Voodoo religion of Haiti came from a merger of native, Catholic, and African religions. Individual artists of African descent began achieving measures of success shortly after the American Civil War. Artists like Henry Ossawa Tanner (the Banjo Lesson) and Jacob Lawrence depicted the unique experience of African Americans in the 19th and 20th Centuries.

The Oxbow
Hudson River School
Thomas Cole

Kindred Spirit
Hudson River School
Asher Durand


American landscape painting was heavily influenced by the Work of Constable and Bonington. These English landscape painters worked in the landscape. The American landscape, considered wild and untamed, was romanticized by Europeans who were influenced by the idea of purity in the untamed. It grew out of the myth of the noble savage put forth by J.J. Rousseau.

Hudson River School
-was a group of landscape painters working in upstate New York and New England who used the landscape as subject matter. The school was part of an American painting period called the Luminist period which was part of the European Romanticist Movement. The Luminists get their name from their great interest in the effects of light in the landscape.

The Hudson River School had artists such as Thomas Cole (Genesee Valley) and Asher Durand who revered the landscape.

Asher Durand believed that the landscape was such an integral part of American identity that he proclaimed that every American family should own a painting of the American landscape which should be hung above the family Bible. This was an expression of the idea of "purity" in the untamed wilderness of America. Kindred Spirits

George Catlin
Indian, c.1850.

Winslow Homer was another American artist whose painting inspired many.
The Life Line, 1884.
The Gulf Stream, 1899.
The Fox Hunt, 1893.

George Caleb Bingham was a painter who painted the frontier and the people who lived there.
Fur Traders on the Missouri, is one painting which depicts the life of pioneering Americans.
Jolly Flatboatmen, 1848.

John James Audubon
Golden Eagle, 1834.

The Flower Carrier
Mexican Muralists
Diego Rivera

Echo of a Scream
Mexican Muralists
David Alfaro Siqueiros


The Making of a Motor * Mexican Muralist Movement * fresco painting * c. 1936 * Diego Rivera

The Mexican Revolution began in 1911 with the overthrow of the dictator Diaz. The Revolution continued for 20 years. During this time the Mexican Muralist Movement rose as an important part of the struggle.

The Mexican Muralists drew their images from ancient Olmec and Mayan imagery, worked primarily in fresco, and used populist and socialist imagery.

Diego Rivera -was the leading artist of the movement. The work glorified workers and advocated revolution over the wealthy and ruling classes of Mexico. His political ideas were strongly Marxist, but he did a number of murals in the U.S. during the Depression.

Night of the Rich, fresco, 1928, Mexico City

Allegory of California, mural, 1931, San Francisco

The Making of a Motor, fresco, c. 1936, Detroit

The Flower Carrier, oil and Tempera on Masonite, 1935

Frida Kahlo

-was married to Diego Rivera and did a number of introspective and psychological self-portraits about her life.
The Two Fridas, 1939

David Alfaro Siqueiros
Echo of a Scream, enamel on wood, 1937

Other artists associated with the Movement were Orozco, O'Gorman, and O'Higgins.

American Gothic
American Regionalists
Grant Wood

American Regionalists
Edward Hopper

Migrant Mother
American Regionalists
c. 1930
Dorothea Lang


The American Regionalist movement began in the late 1920's and continued through the Great Depression. Artists of this period relied heavily on government work programs. The most famous of these is the Works Projects Administration or WPA, created a variety of large scale projects and employed Americans throughout the years of the Great depression. Most projects were focused on the national infrastructure including, highways, railways, post offices, schools, etc. Many excellent examples of American Regionalist style can be found in 1930's era post offices and government buildings.

Painters from the time include Thomas Hart Benton, Edward Hopper, Grant Wood, and John Stuart Curry.

Grant Wood's American Gothic, 1930, is considered a masterpiece of this era because of the way that it seems to depict the solemnity and hardness of farmers in the Midwestern United States. This painting reflects the sincerity and work ethic of the American spirit. The American regionalists, like the Luminists, were interested in creating an image of the American character during tough economic times.

Young Corn, 1931

Midnight Ride of Paul Revere, 1931

Edward Hopper, who worked in the northeastern United States and Midwest, also looked to reinvent the American identity. His works depict architectural settings and a sense of loneliness. He also focused on the characteristics of light (a favorite of the Luminists).

Early Sunday Morning, 1930


Photographers of the same era, Lewis Hine and Dorothea Lang, were interested in reflecting the state of people in the harsh conditions of the Great Depression.


20th Century Canadians also looked to the landscape as an expression of national identity. The Group of Seven was devoted to portraying the harshness and stoic beauty of the Canadian wilderness. It helped to give a separate identity to Canada.

Emily Carr
Strait of Juan de Fuca, c.1936
A Haida Village, c. 1929

Others in the movement include: J. E. H. McDonald,Tom Thomson, Frederick Varley, A. Y. Jackson, Lawren Harris, Arthur Lismer, Frank Johnston, Franklin Carmichael, Lionel Fitzgerald, Edwin Holgate, A. J. Casson

Next study guide: Chapter 9

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