PublicationsThe Sweat of Their Face: Portraying American Workers
Work always has been a central construct in the United States, influencing how Americans measure their lives and assess their contribution to the wider society. Work also has been valued as the key element in the philosophy of self-improvement and social mobility that undergird the American value system. Yet work can also be something imposed upon people: it can be exploitative, painful, and hard. This duality is etched into the faces of the people depicted in the portraits showcased in The Sweat of Their Face: Portraying American Workers. This companion volume to an exhibition at the Smithsonian National Portrait Gallery examines working-class subjects as they appear in artworks by artists including Winslow Homer, Elizabeth Catlett, Danny Lyon, and Shauna Frischkorn. This richly illustrated book charts the rise and fall of labor from the empowered artisan of the eighteenth century through industrialization and the current American business climate, in which industrial jobs have all but disappeared. It also traces the history of work itself through its impact on the men and women whose laboring bodies are depicted. The Sweat of Their Face is a powerful visual exploration of the inextricable ties between American labor and society.