Although a train platform in the foreground bears the name “Small Town,” the frame of Yaghjian’s painting had referenced Beacon, NY before getting crossed out in favor of this more universal theme. We are invited to ascend a wooden stairway into a quaint town whose buildings are arrayed upon its hillside: a brick commercial building near the tracks, a church and more ornate homes higher up. Warm earthtones and green foliage predominate. Small traces of the forces that would transform such towns lurk at the corners of the painting, like telephone wires or an automobile at lower right.
About the Artist: Born in Harpoot, Armenia, Yaghjian immigrated to the US with his family in 1907 and was raised in Providence, RI. He attended the Rhode Island School of Design on scholarship and received a BA in Fine Arts in 1930. He then continued his studies with the Art Students League, where he met John French Sloan and Stuart Davis, both significant influences upon his work. His work was exhibited at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Corcoran Gallery, the National Gallery, and many other venues; he was the subject of numerous solo shows. At the 1936 Whitney Biennial, Anita Brenner grouped him with artists like Edward Hopper and NDG artist Dorothy Varian in their use of colors that are “dominant in most American landscapes, intense, precise and small within great space and immense sky.” Some of his most important contributions came as an art teacher, initially for the Art Students League in New York (1938-1943), then briefly at the University of Missouri. In 1945 Yaghjian was hired to head the art faculty at the University of South Carolina, where he taught until retirement in 1972. He was known for painting scenes from everyday life, both in New York and in South Carolina; while he continually painted his surroundings, his style shifted throughout his career from realism to stylized abstraction to abstraction. He lived in Columbia for the rest of his life, where he still was dancing two nights a week at the age of 85. 1 work at the Smithsonian American Art Museum. 1 work at the Gibbs Museum of Art. 1 work at the Chrysler Museum of Art. 1 work at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. 1 more image at FAP. Oral history interview at University of South Carolina.
Sources Consulted: Anita Brenner, “Younger Generation at Whitney Biennial,” Brooklyn Daily Eagle 15 Nov. 1936: 10C; South Carolina State Museum, “Edmund Yaghjian: A Retrospective” (16 March-16 September, 1997).
Cooper, Ken (biography)