Sunday, October 3, 2010

"Village Well" by Mabel Hewit

Mabel Hewit
Village Well
White line woodcut
17" x 12 1/2"

The first thing that gets me about this image is that the two women gathering water seem to be dramatically high above the road and buildings, as if there is a steep drop just behind them. Perhaps the buildings aren't sized to life.This fits with the way they are drawn: simplified planes of pastel color and lines that bend and waver instead of stand up straight. These buildings remind me more of a toy block city or cardboard model than real architecture.

The people themselves appear quite like stiff models, too. Thick-armed, faceless, and getting right down to their work, they blend into their wooden surroundings. Round, green forms representing trees rise up from the figure on the left, continuing the caterpillar-like chain of segments that begins with the back of her head. The line of the sidewalk cuts across the shape of the woman on the right causing her blue clothing to stand out while making the flesh of her face and arms blends in even more with the warm-colored stone around the well and ground between the sidewalk and buildings.

The visual connection to toys and models is furthered by the thin brown frame around the entire image and the woodgrain emphasized evenly across the sky and far away landscape. What would be miles of distance collapse into a very flat picture, resembling a wooden puzzle. I am reminded of traditional American folk art, toys still created by and used by the Amish and Waldorf schools. Objects that directly connect to a simple way of life because of what they are made of, as well as what they are. Playthings so plain that most of the game is left up to the child's imagination.

There is an exhibit of this artist's work, Midwest Modern: The Color Woodcuts of Mabel Hewit, at the Cleveland Museum of Art, on display through October 24th. Click here for more details.

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