Curator's Choice tells the stories behind prized objects and artifacts from the collections of historical organizations and cultural institutions in Pennsylvania.

“I am an American, born in Philadelphia of American stock. I studied art in America. I paint what I see in America, in other words, I paint the American scene,” so Stuart Davis (1894-1964) described himself and his work. He was raised in an environment that nurtured artistic leanings. His mother, Helen Stu­art Foulke, a sculptor, and his father, Edward Wyatt Davis, art editor for the Philadelphia Press , a newspaper to which artists John Sloan, William Glackens, George Luks, and Everett Shinn contributed during the 1890s, met while students at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts.

Stuart Davis first studied with Robert Henri, from 1910 to 1913, and showed several watercolors in the landmark New York Armory Show of 1913, an international exhibition that introduced modern European art to a shocked but curious American audience. He rendered covers and drawings for The Masses, associated with the Ashcan school, and cartoons for Harper’s Weekly.

After a visit to Paris in 1928-1929, he introduced a new note into cubism (a style in which the subject matter is broken up, analyzed, and reassembled in an abstract form), basing his work on its synthetic rather than its analytical phase. Using natural forms, especially those suggesting the characteristic environment of twentieth-century American life, he rearranged them into flat poster-like patterns with precise outlines and sharply contrasting colors. Davis is generally considered to be among the outstanding cubist artists in America.

Among his greatest (and largest) works were murals commissioned by the Radio City Music Hall in New York (1932); by the Works Progress Administration for a New York housing project, later acquired by the Indiana University Art Museum in Bloomington (1938); by the New York World’s Fair (1939); and for the H. J. Heinz Company Research Center in Pittsburgh (1957).

In addition to his career as an artist and muralist – he painted until the day he died at the age of seventy – he was also a teacher and instructor of art, editor of an arts journal, arts advocate, and printmaker. His lithographs are as highly prized as his sketches, watercolors, gouaches, and oils. The Palmer Museum of Art of the Pennsylvania State University holds an exciting lithograph by Stuart Davis entitled Anchor (1936). The piece reflects the artist’s fascination with interpreting scenes and objects of everyday American life in the thirties, a period during which his style grew increasingly abstract. The lithograph was, fittingly, a gift of Penn State’s Class of 1931, a fecund year for the artist whose stellar works included a number of critically acclaimed oil paintings, among them House and Street, Salt Shaker, Garage Lights, Lawn and Sky, Trees and El, and Summer Twilight. In 1931, he also created popular lithographs Barber Shop Chord, Theatre on the Beach, and Sixth Avenue L. Anchor has served as an important component of several major exhibitions mounted by the Palmer Museum of Art.