Winslow Homer's Empire State: Three summers at Houghton Farm were pivotal

"He'd been painting farms for years," David Tatham said. "But none of the labors of the farm are taking place here, in these pictures. He was re-inventing himself as an artist. In these three crucial summers his output was phenomenal -- 150 works -- it's really the last unexplained period of his career. These shepherdesses are from an alternative universe. If this is the iconic painting in this group, the only possible reality is that tree on the ridge."

Tatham gestured at the large reproduction of "Shepherdesses Resting" that greets visitors to the new Winslow Homer exhibition at SUArt Galleries, an image also on the catalogue cover and offered in the Gallery shop as a print. Homer's watercolor depicts two women in gauzy white dresses, straw bonnets and -- deftly outlined in graphite -- high-heeled ladies' shoes, lounging and chatting in the meadow; a third on the hillside raises her shepherd's crook to them near a line of grazing sheep as a couple birds wheel overhead in a summer sky. Not your usual sweaty workers, nothing indicates they're populating one of the first "modern" agricultural research stations in the country either.

The three quiches and the fresh fruit platters stood largely untouched the morning that SUArts hosted a press preview of this year's major campus art exhibition. American painter Winslow Homer's pivotal three summers at mid-life on an upstate experimental farm is the follow-up to last year's Michelangelo extravaganza. This opening may have had less glitz and fanfare, but SU's own David Tatham, fine arts professor and former dean, has been a passionate Homer scholar for decades. Author of several books on Homer -- including SU Press' "Winslow Homer in the Adirondacks" (1996) and "Winslow Homer and the Pictorial Press" (2003) -- and a number of major essays, Tatham approached SUArts in March of 2006 to suggest this show and serves as its guest curator.

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