The Demuth Museum exhibit explores the role of the Susquehanna River as a muse for artists | entertainment

The Susquehanna River has always been an important source of inspiration for painter, mixed media artist and curator Rob Evans. Evans, 62, grew up in the suburbs of Washington, D.C., but spent summers at his grandparents’ house in the hills of Wrightsville, wandering the woods.

“It was like heaven,” says Evans, who now lives in a Wrightsville farmhouse overlooking the river. “The river, as it were, pierced my psyche. It really became a part of who I was and who I would eventually become.”

Drawing on the Susquehanna: Four Centuries of Artistic Inspiration and Commerce features 60 works of art spanning mainly the early 1600s to the early 1900s and is on display at the DeMuth Museum in Lancaster from August 6th to October 30th.

“The exhibition does a good job of showing the river and how it has influenced artists from centuries ago to the present day,” says Greta Rimar, collections and exhibitions coordinator at the Demut Foundation. “The show is really important and interesting because it combines visual arts, nature and history to engage the audience.”

Susquehanna Valley by Nathaniel Currier and James Ives, a hand-colored lithograph from about 1870, is part of the Susquehanna Painting art exhibit at the DeMuth Museum.

The river is like a muse

Although Evans did not include any of his work in the reduced version of this traveling exhibition at Demuth, he featured the Susquehanna River prominently in paintings of dramatic sweeping vistas from his grandparents’ former home, Round Top, as well as moody river images. from different angles from the shores. The river is Evans’ main muse as an artist, but as a curator, Evans champions the Susquehanna River as a primary source of inspiration for American landscape painters and even James Fenimore Cooper, one of the country’s earliest writers.

The Hudson River School was a major movement in 19th-century American art that featured highly romantic depictions of the landscape of New York State’s Hudson River Valley and surrounding areas. Landscape painter Thomas Cole (1801-48) is widely considered by art critics to be the founder of the movement.

Demuth's drawing at the Susquehanna Exhibition

An 1838 steel plate engraving from William H. Bartlett’s American Landscapes is featured in the DeMuth Museum’s Drawing on the Susquehanna art exhibit.

“The American landscape school was really born out of the Susquehanna, and that led to the Hudson River School, which later got all the fame and name,” says Evans. “But Susquehanna, I think, had an even earlier influence.”

To support this theory, Evans included several images and artifacts, including a book with an engraving of a painting by Thomas Cole of his close friend James Fenimore Cooper’s novel The Last of the Mohicans, which predates the Hudson River School. Cooper’s earlier 1823 novel, The Pioneers, also titled The Headwaters of the Susquehanna, is set on the upper reaches of the Susquehanna River in New York and, according to Evans, is truly the first major American novel set in America.

Perhaps the strongest evidence for Evans’s theory presented in the exhibition is a rare book he was able to obtain thanks to the help of a patron. Lucas’s Book of Progressive Drawings by Fielding Lucas, Jr. was published in 1827 and is a drawing tutorial consisting of 16 hand-colored drawings, mostly of rivers, five of which are the Susquehanna River.

“A number of art historians argue that this book influenced many Hudson River School artists at a young age,” says Evans. “So before the Hudson River School even started, you’re starting to see the Susquehanna having an influence — imprinting itself on the minds of these artists.”

Drawing on display at Susquehanna: Herzog

Herman Herzog’s painting will be part of the Demuth Museum’s “Drawing on the Susquehanna” exhibit.

Early artists

“Painting on the Susquehanna” begins with an even earlier piece of art: a piece of Native American petroglyph that broke off a rock and washed up on the Safe Harbor causeway. The petroglyph was part of an archaeological collection that Evans managed to acquire along with a couple of other artifacts.

“They were really the first real artists of the Susquehanna—long before the Westerners came and drove them out,” Evans says. “They used real river materials like clay to make the pots.”

The exhibit travels through time to see how artists, including local painters such as Lloyd Mifflin of Columbia and Julius Augustus Beck of Lititz, depicted the river and the ever-changing landscape.

“What’s really fascinating about the exhibition is that you see the gradual progress through the eyes of the artists,” says Evans. “You see the wars between the natives and the settlers, you see them eventually being pushed out, then you see the development along the coast—the canals and the railroads, and then eventually the dams and the power plants that led to us we have today. All this has been documented by artists for 400 years.”

Susquehanna Exhibit Picture: Safe Harbor Dam

“Construction of Safe Harbor Dam,” a 1930 oil on canvas painting by Pennsylvania Dutch artist Harry Martin Book, is one of the works featured in the exhibit. Construction of the dam began in April 1930 and was completed in December 1931.

Artistic interpretations

The exhibition traces the artistic interpretation of the changes of the river, the landscape and the people who live and work along the river, but it also traces the way art is created and distributed among the public. The exhibition features prints from subscription books that people will be able to hang on their walls, the first time the average person can own a work by an artist like Thomas Cole.

“Many of these artists used the modern printing technologies of the time to publish their work,” says Evans, who also experiments with technology and art in his mixed media, or his NFT line. “This is the beginning of the mass production and distribution of the artist’s work.”

Artists also worked with newspapers, logging companies and other businesses to document what was happening along the river, Evans says. And lithographs and engravings of bridges, railways and canals being built along the river appeared on the front pages of newspapers across the country. The Susquehanna quickly became a national and even international destination thanks to artists who worked on the PR of the river.

Some of the artists worked with logging companies, other businesses and newspapers to tell the story of what was happening along the river. “It’s amazing to me how much Susquehanna has been forgotten,” Evans says. “At one time it was one of the most important rivers in the country.”

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