The historical importance of the strike cannot be overstated. It was the first great textile strike in America, and led to a number of other large-scale strikes in the following years, most notably: Paterson, New Jersey, in 1913; New Bedford, Massachusetts, in 1928; and Gastonia, North Carolina, in 1929. Perhaps foremost for Fasanella, the 1912 strike represented the first time disparate ethnic groups worked together.
Mill Workers-Lower Pacific Mill (1977) is the first in the series Fasanella where he began to execute on a grand scale and a thematic breadth that his subject demanded. Mill Workers (later called Working at the Mill) is an epic painting devoted solely to depicting the inner workings of a textile mill; it focuses on the main section of a monolithic mill structure brought close to the picture plane and shown in complete, five-story cutaway view. The interior shows every aspect of industrial textile production: carding, spinning, weaving, dyeing, and inspection. Despite the emphasis on the machines, and the immensity of the entire operation, Fasanella has humanized this painting by including the entryway and break room at lower right, where workers have their coffee. He also shows workers moving about on their way to and from the factory in the foreground by the canal.
Like Fasanella's earlier Lawrence paintings, Mill Workers is a composite of contemporary and historical sources. More than any other work, however, it demonstrates Fasanella's intense interest in understanding and accurately depicting the mechanical technology that shaped the daily existence of the mill workers. This painting is the result of months of sketching mill machinery in Lowell and asking questions about how it worked. Fasanella also spent countless hours at the Merrimack Valley Textile Museum studying the historical machinery and making detailed notes. The resulting work is an accurate, monumental rendering of the industrial environment in which the immigrant workers spent most of the day.
While Fasanella's paintings are all about hope as much as loss. He sought to provide a blueprint for humankind to change the world. Fasanella's America- the one he never found but never stopped searching for- lay between memory and vision, between loss and hope. Realizing the promise of America required understanding and acknowledging our collective and individual heritage, sorting out its best qualities, celebrating its triumphs and memorializing its losses, and using this information as an instrument of change to affect the future. In merging the interests and values of the collective and individual, Fasanella's family becomes our family, his street becomes our street, and the promise of his America-a humane democratic society that values culture and community- becomes our shared vision.
Fasanella did not believe in art for art's sake. Painting, he believed, had to serve higher goals- it had to communicate ideas that would lead to self-realization for the working people he cared so much about. It had to be spontaneous, emotional, and true. It had to be original, not formulaic. And above all, it had to be seen.
The Lawrence series as a whole stands today as one of the most important and visually powerful bodies of historical painting produced in the twentieth-century by an American artist. The majority of the above text is excerpted from Paul S. D'Ambrosio, Ralph Fasanella's America, (Cooperstown, NY: New York State Historical Association, 2001)
Sotheby’s is honored to offer Mill Workers-Lower Pacific Mill from this landmark series.
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