WOOD ENGRAVINGS AS HISTORICAL RESOURCE

Winslow Homer began his professional career in 1857, working as a freelance illustrator for weekly newspapers. The rise of the pictorial press in the mid-nineteenth century flooded middle-class readers with pictures of events and places far outside their daily experience. Homer contributed more than 250 designs to this deluge of images.

The diverse subjects and styles of his wood engravings reflect both Homer’s sources—from early photographs to pure imaginings—and the engraving process itself, in which Homer’s designs were incised into wood blocks by others. Homer’s interest in accurately reporting current events, together with the topical range and sheer quantity of his wood engravings, make these prints an invaluable historical resource.

Sterling Clark acquired his Homer wood engravings during World War II, perhaps prompted in part by nostalgia for their idealized vision of the years just before his birth. He wrote: “They portray the life of the times from about 1863 to 1875 or so—really admirable some of them.” Clark also wrote that he believed himself to be a trendsetter with his ardent collecting of the wood engravings.

The Inauguration of Abraham Lincoln as President of the United States, at the Capitol, Washington, March 4, 1861, publ. Harper's Weekly, 16 Mar. 1861

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