100 Years Pass

GuyJames--100 Years Pass.jpg
GuyJames - 100 Years Pass.JPG

Dublin Core



A neoclassical mansion, accessorized by ancestral family tree, looms over a woman wearing a long dress at lower left. Upon closer viewing the coherence of this scene breaks down; she's carrying an axe in her left hand, a la Lizzie Borden, along with something in her right hand we cannot see. Moreover, any attempt to inhabit a romantic tableau of the past is undermined by an historical marker on the front lawn--or is it a 1930s highway sign?--along with an airplane flying overhead.

About the Artist: Born in Middletown, CT and trained at the Hartford Art School, Guy was among the earliest Americans to see European surrealism via a 1931 show at the Wadsworth Atheneum on the “Newer Super-Realism.” Thereafter he was strongly influenced by painters like Salvador Dali, Giorgio de Chirico, and José Clemente Orozco. At the same time, Guy’s work was characterized by a sharp satirical edge that may have owed something to his own work experience—after high school he had tried selling rugs and typewriters; was a sailor and census-taker—and to his political activities, including membership in the radical John Reed Club. In 1930 he helped stage a 1930 labor play entitled Strike; amid unsuccessful attempts to stage it in New York, Guy remained in the city. During the Great Depression Guy was among the leaders of the Unemployed Artists Group (later renamed the Artists Union), which advocated government support for the arts and later resisted proposed cuts to the Federal Arts Program. Guy’s paintings were exhibited at the Wadsworth Atheneum Annex (1931), the ACA Gallery (1937), American Artists’ Congress (1937), a “Fight War and Fascism” show at the La Salle Gallery (1937), Federal Art Gallery (1938), Boyer Gallery (1939), and Ferargil Galleries (1941). In 1936 he married the respected woodblock artist Clara Skinner, and they co-exhibited at several shows. Guy also undertook public mural projects, referenced only as located in Mexico and “New York churches” (Older). One that is known was a 1934 three-panel project for the Hartford Public High School’s cafeteria on the production of food: “The New England fishing industry is at its center—the port of Gloucester, Mass.—is brought to life in the first panel. The second reveals the story of the wheat belt; fields of grain, elevators, transportation on the Great Lakes. From pastures to stockyard, the cattle industry is recorded in the third” (Older). Perhaps the peak of Guy’s popular recognition, by that time including the epithet of “Yankee Surrealist,” involved a 1941 portfolio of paintings published in Esquire magazine as “Fun in Ghost Town.” “Today he is more or less established,” the profile stated, “if somewhat precariously....James Guy may be called a depression period radical, for there is nothing in his background or conditioning which would make inevitable the questioning of social values that has been going on in his picture making” (Saltpeter). During World War II Guy worked at the Pratt Read glider factory in Deep River, CT where his visual style changed markedly into a futurism he called “industrial symphonies” (Dickinson). After the war he taught art at Bennington College, MacMurray College, and Weslyan University—with a sabbatical of several years during which he wrote and photographed articles on fishing for outdoor magazines (Stedman). 2 works at the National Gallery of Art. 6 more images at FAP.

Sources Consulted: Ernest Dickinson, “Paints ‘Symphonies of Industry’”, Hartford Courant 15 Oct. 1944: 67; Ilene Susan Fort, “Social Surrealism,” Archives of American Art Journal 22.3 (1982): 8-20; Gerald M. Monroe, “Artists as Militant Trade Union Workers During the Great Depression,” Archives of American Art Journal 14.1 (1974): 7-10; Cy Stedman, “Return of an Artist,” Hartford Courant 19 Jan. 1958: 114-115; Harry Saltpeter, “Guy: Ghoul of the Ghostly West,” Esquire 16.2 (Aug. 1941): 86-87; Julia Older, “Hartford Public Buildings Richly and Lastingly Adorned as Uncle Sam Becomes Nation’s Most Lavish Art Patron,” Hartford Courant 1 Jul. 1934: 59.


Guy, James Meikle, 1909-1983




Ritz, Abigail (photography)

Cooper, Ken (biography)


New Deal Gallery, Genesee Valley Council on the Arts

Object #FA18167


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Still image


Still Image Item Type Metadata

Original Format

Watercolor painting

Physical Dimensions

12 x 15.5 in.
Condition: paper rippled