During the first half of the twentieth century, the relationship between American artists and their native land changed dramatically. While travel and study in Europe remained a priority, many American artists also felt newly compelled by their national surroundings. Life in the big city, with its bustling crowds and towering skyscrapers, is widely recognized as a key influence, but this exhibition reveals how American artists also canvassed the country, seeking inspiration from wide-open spaces and small-town culture across the United States.
Cross Country brings together works by more than 80 artists who channeled the power of American places outside of city limits between 1915 and 1950. Shortly after World War I, the U.S. population became increasingly urban rather than rural, but where artists lived did not necessarily dictate where they worked. In addition to developments in infrastructure and industry—such as the automobile and the interstate system—grants, commissions, the lure of newly established art schools and artist colonies, and various Depression-era government agencies stimulated artists to explore far-flung locales.
Arranged geographically, Cross Country presents nearly 200 artworks, including more than 70 from the High’s permanent collection. Three of the High Museum’s curatorial departments collaborated on this exhibition to represent the true inclusivity of American art during this period of changing national identity. The exhibition features not only trained painters who worked outside of major American cities but also photographers and self-taught artists who were earning major recognition from the American art world for the first time in history. Featured artists include N. C. Wyeth, Andrew Wyeth, Georgia O’Keeffe, Grant Wood, Thomas Hart Benton, Jacob Lawrence, Grandma Moses, Hale Woodruff, Bill Traylor, Ansel Adams, Dorothea Lange, Alfred Stieglitz, and Peter Sekaer, among many others.