Beyond the Boroughs
Outside of the urban city, the small towns of rural New York are represented well within the New Deal Gallery. Small town streets, rural roads, natural landscapes, and rustic farmland all make notable appearances in the gallery. These locations are comprised of subjects from both Upstate New York and Long Island.
The painting “Small Town, NY” by Edmund Yaghjian displays an important aspect of the gallery: small town regionalism. Small Town, NY is not a real location, but an icon of all small towns outside of the city, attempting to capture this aspect of New York. The original title for this piece was the more specific “Beacon, NY”. Yaghjian himself worked out of Columbus, NY, which may have been an inspiration for this painting, although this location seems to have taken inspiration from a variety of places. It is a collection of small towns, rather than a singular subject.
During the era of the Great Depression, the simplicity of small town regionalism found its way back into view. Elements of small town America appealed to many urban areas that were hit the hardest and suffering through economic hardship. Paintings and art depicting small towns, roads, and simple farms acted as an escape. Many New Deal artists seem to use this type of Americana to create a familiar and calming atmosphere. By depicting this type of environment, the artists attempted to create a feeling of traveling back to the “good old days” before the economic turmoil of the Great Depression.
Interestingly, many New Deal Gallery artists who depict these small towns lived in New York City, traveling out to towns such as Woodstock for inspiration. While many NYC artist looked to depict natural setting such as rivers and forests, others looked to bring images of rural structures and simpler imagery, such as boats traveling along a river or workers on farmland.
Aside from the Yaghjian in "Small Town, NY", other artists depict similar suburban or rural subjects. In "Deserted House", New York City artist Dorothy Varian displays a deserted country home while working out of Woodstock. Long Island locations such as New Suffolk became a getaway, with aquatic views centered around boats such as by Samuel Theobald, Jr.'s "Fishing Boats, New Suffolk". The out of city parts of New York State became an attraction for artists in New York City, where they could find landscapes and painting subjects that represented, at least to an urban audience, a simpler time. These representations were often the ideal of what they were trying to bring back to the city, rather than a true reflection of them. The cultural perspective of an ideal America and the American dream can be seen within these often postcard-like depictions.
The floodplains within the Allocations interactive map demonstrate a changing environment. Similar to the economic and industrial changes of the New Deal Gallery artists, another radical change is occurring: the climate. Because of climate changes as a whole, many areas will once again experience times of turmoil and hardship. The cultural image of the ideal “small town America” persists even to this day. However, the real subjects represented in this art may soon be worn away.