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Ever wonder where the art is stored at the WFMA, and what's in there anyway? Join MSU associate professor Todd Giles as he unlocks the vault!

 


 

Reginald Marsh

Huber’s Museum, 1928
Lithograph

8 3/4" x 13 1/2”

Museum purchase, 1973

 

 

 

[Transcript]

Hello and welcome to The Vault Unlocked. My name is Todd Giles and we’re here to take you inside the collection vault at the Wichita Falls Museum of Art at MSU Texas, because getting to know art helps us better know ourselves. In this episode, we will take a close look at Reginald Marsh’s 1928 lithograph titled Huber’s Museum.

Reginald Marsh (1898-1954) was part of a second generation of artists influenced by Social Realist painters Robert Henri, John Sloan, Edward Hopper and George Bellows, who were interested in observing and capturing the nitty-gritty of daily urban life. Like his colleague Paul Cadmus and many of the Social Realists of the 1920s and 30s, Marsh’s work explores the nameless hordes of working-class city-dwellers who found jobs and entertainment where they could between the two World Wars. Also like many of these artists, Marsh began his artistic career as an illustrator for magazines and other periodicals. (With the exception of Robert Henri, all of the above mentioned artists are represented in the permanent collection of the WFMA).

After graduating from Yale in 1920, Marsh got a job with the New York Daily News producing cartoon reviews of burlesque shows and vaudeville. Marsh became one of the original contributors of the New Yorker when it began publication in 1925. He also contributed to Vanity Fair, Life, Harper’s Bazaar and other popular periodicals of the day.

Like most of the Social Realist painters and printmakers, Marsh was not interested in the Modernism that had been sweeping Europe since the early 1900s in the form of Cubism, Futurism, and Surrealism. Rather, he turned, like many of his colleagues, to the classic European tradition of Hogarth, Blake, Goya and others. And, like many American artists and authors before and after him, Marsh went to Europe in 1925 to see the works of the great masters firsthand. It was upon his return to New York that he hit his stride. Throughout his career, Marsh produced paintings and prints of trains, people on carousels, Bowery street scenes, burlesques, dance halls, subways and cityscapes.

“New York Nights: Lithographs by Reginald Marsh, Realistically Presenting Burlesque and the Dime Museum” article from Vanity Fair

Huber’s Museum, along with a similar 1928 lithograph titled Irving Place Burlesque, appeared in a very brief one-page article titled “New York Nights: Lithographs by Reginald Marsh, Realistically Presenting Burlesque and the Dime Museum” in the December 1928 issue of Vanity Fair. An earlier article in The New York Times dating back to 1910 helps shed light on the lithograph and the thirty-three year history of George F. Huber’s dime museum. According to the unnamed author of “Huber’s Museum Closes its Doors,” “The visitors at Huber’s formed the most heterogeneous gathering to be found anywhere in New York. People from out of town, east side folks, women and children, young men of the Bowery stamp, sailors on shore leave—all of them mingled in the crowds that went to Huber’s.”

Along with a burlesque stage visible in the background of Marsh’s lithograph, Huber’s Museum was also, as the Times article put it, “home of countless freaks,” war relics and other historical memorabilia, wax figures, thousands of photographs, strength-testing machines, catch-penny games, stuffed animals, ethnographic displays, etc. totaling, according to an action add from 1910, one million curiosities. Houdini, who got his start at Huber’s, actually showed up to the auction to purchase a few mementos to remind him of his early days. These dime museums played an important role in the late 1880s through around 1920, especially in New York, in that they provided both entertainment and a form of education to millions of patrons throughout the years.

While not “museums” in the highbrow sense, these Wunderkammers had more in common with the small town local history museums one encounters driving through the rural US—minus the burlesque dancers, of course—in that they contained photographs, cultural curiosities, local lore, and so forth. The Wunderkammer dates back to sixteenth century Norther Europe. These Cabinets of Curiosities contained an undifferentiated hodgepodge of art and science comprised of naturalia (rare items of nature, including things like two-headed reptiles and animals), artificialia (works of art and other man-made curiosities), exotica (exotic plants, animals and even peoples from far-off lands), and scientifica (the latest inventions of humanity).

A few words on Marsh’s style and productivity as a printmaker. His first foray into printmaking was in 1921, when he produced thirty-three linoleum cuts. He returned to printmaking in 1926, when he produced his first etching, and in 1928 he turned to lithography. That year he produced a total of seventeen lithographs (many of them of Paris street and bar scenes), and fourteen etchings and engravings. His first print exhibition, which was made up entirely of lithographs, was held in November and December of 1928 at the Whitney Studio Galleries in New York, simply titled “Reginald Marsh.” The following year, of course, marked the beginning of the Great Depression and Marsh’s coming into his own as a printmaker.

Huber’s Museum, as is the case for most of his prints of people and places, provides us with a general sense of the experience of what he saw and later imagined during the composition process. Marsh’s prints and paintings capture moments in time and action rather than focusing in on individual people. In Huber’s Museum, we, as viewers, are right there at ground level with the bustling crowd looking up at the strange array of carnival barkers and oddly dressed characters. There are twenty-four museumgoers standing before us; while no one individual stands out, we see the variety of people from all walks of life before us, just as one would expect from a New York street scene—couples, groups of friends, lone passersby.

Discussing Marsh’s people-filled scenes such as Huber’s Museum, scholar Norman Sasowsky explains that “[i]ndividuals are usually part of a larger tableau and are rarely singled out for greater in-depth study. The people in Marsh’s prints are on stage, posing for the artist—captured in an attitude, telling a moment” (38-39). Furthermore, “Marsh’s forms push out toward the spectator. The energy contained in the forms seeks release and ‘yearns’ to go beyond its limit. . . . This produces a highly activated overall surface, alive and sensuous” (43). Marsh’s compositional style is frenetic; his line, according to Sasowsky, is “essentially, nervous and jittery.” Through this “restless quality,” he was “able to weave a very fine, delicate web of lines in which to capture New York and its people” (41). 

The Times article quoted above, in closing, highlights how the advent of moving pictures changed the entertainment landscape of America: “The Academy of Music now a stock theatre, Tony Pastor’s housing a picture show, the old Union Square now another picture show, and Huber’s Museum about to metamorphose into an eating place, Fourteenth Street has little left but Tammany Hall to recall other days.” Perhaps the most interesting thing about Marsh's lithograph is that it looks back to an earlier pre-World War I and pre-Great Depression America when entertainment was not yet mediated by a screen, something those of us who are a little older can certainly appreciate as we consider our own lives before they too became mediated through our computers and smartphones.

Thanks for joining us as we unlock the vault at the Wichita Falls Museum of Art at MSU Texas. To learn more about the WFMA, our current and upcoming exhibitions, the permanent collection, as well as sign up for our e-newsletter, visit wfma.msutexas.edu.

 


Works Consulted

“Huber’s Museum Closes its Doors.” The New York Times. July 16, 1910.

“New York Nights: Lithographs by Reginald Marsh, Realistically Presenting Burlesque and the Dime Museum.” Vanity Fair, Dec. 1928.

Sasowsky, Norman. The Prints of Reginald Marsh. Clarkson N. Potter, Inc., 1976.


Huber’s Museum from the Permanent Collection of the Wichita Falls Museum of Art at MSU Texas

 

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