Natural Forces exhibition

Finding the Right Words in Natural Forces

When you visit Natural Forces: Winslow Homer and Frederic Remington, you may notice excerpts of poems grace the walls in three sections of the exhibition.

Why did we include poetry? It was a way to layer in other voices of the time period to give a richer context of the American experience. And for Americans living in the 19th century especially, poetry was a pervasive part of their lives and served as an important way to engage in political and cultural discourses.

The three poets on display in the exhibition—James Weldon Johnson, Celia Thaxter, and Walt Whitman—all add emotion and detail to the experiences Homer and Remington depicted in their work. Here's a little bit more about each poet:

James Weldon Johnson
James Weldon Johnson (1871-1938)

James Weldon Johnson was a writer, poet, lawyer, educator, and civil rights activist. He was an early leader of the NAACP and was appointed by President Teddy Roosevelt as a US Consul in Central America. His poetry is a reflection on the Black experience, and his poem "Deep in the Quiet Wood" celebrates the restorative powers of being in nature.

This excerpt is located in the "Up North" section of Natural Forces, which features meditative landscapes of upstate New York and Quebec by Homer and Remington:

James Weldon Johnson's poem
Image: Frederic Remington, Untitled (Impressionistic Fall Landscape), Date Unknown. Oil paint on cavas. Buffalo Bill Center of the West, Cody, WY; Gift of the Coe Foundation.

The next poet, Celia Thaxter, grew up on the rocky shores off the coast of Maine, not far from where Winslow Homer built his studio. She became one of America's favorite writers in the late 19th century.

Celia Thaxter
Celia Thaxter (1835-1894)

Her poem "At the Breaker's Edge" recounts a terrible storm by the sea. This excerpt from it can be found in the titular section of Natural Forces:

Celia Thaxter's poem
Image: Winslow Homer, The Fisher Girl, 1894. Oil paint on canvas. Mead Art Museum, Amherst College, Amherst, MA. Gift of George D. Pratt (Class of 1893); P.1933.7.

The last poet, Walt Whitman, is among the most well-known and influential in American history. His experience at the bedside of wounded Union soldiers during the Civil War affected him deeply. Whitman's poem "1861" marks the year the Civil War began.

Like Whitman, Winslow Homer embedded himself as the illustrator-reporter with the Army of the Potomac during the Civil War, while Frederic Remington also did so in the Spanish-American War. Both men felt similarly changed by the horrors of war.

Walt Whitman
Walt Whitman (1819-1892)

Whitman's poem "1861" marks the year the Civil War began. This excerpt from it is located in the "War and Illustration" section of the exhibition:

Image: Winslow Homer, Trooper Meditating Beside a Grave, 1865. Oil paint on canvas. Joslyn Art Museum, Omaha, NE: Gift of Dr. Harold Gifford and Ann Gifford Forbes, 1960.298.

Natural Forces: Winslow Homer and Frederic Remington is on view through September 7, 2020. Tickets must be purchased in advance.

Jeremy Medina is a digital content associate in the marketing department of the Denver Art Museum. Jeremy joined the DAM in 2020 and is looking forward to updating his bio with his favorite painting from the museum's collection after careful deliberations have been made.