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A debt of gratitude is due to the legislators who authorized and the artists who executed these works.
Nor, taken as a whole, are the art adornments of this, the noblest legislative building in the world, inferior to those of similar modern public buildings in European countries. Art in the early part of the nineteenth century, so far as shown in statuary on the exterior of buildings, was in nowise generally superior to the grandiose sculptures by Persico, which stand in the east portico of the rotunda; while the group by Greenough is far superior to the ordinary statuary of tha day. Nor, in painting, was Trumbull so greatly inferior to his master, West! In fact, the era of the reign of the fourth George of England, and his immediate successor, was, nowhere in Europe, memorable as illustrating the highest ideals of art. Early in this century America had, in Allston and Stuart, art masters equal to their contemporaries of any other nations.
In view of this long-continued example of the possibilities of the artistic use of interior wall surfaces, as shown by the pictorial illustrations in the rotunda, of the history of the country, by well-known artists; and, also, by decorative paintings on minor wall spaces, which adorn the interiors of the nation's capitol building; the fact of the almost entire absence throughout this period of similar wall paintings and decorations in other civic public buildings in the land, as well as in churches, and private dwellings, so that the paintings by Hunt, in the state house, at Albany, can be accurately designated as marking the definite beginning of the present era of the general artistic interior decoration of buildings, civic and religious, public and private ; — furnishes a convincing proof of the utter lack, on the part of the American people as a whole, of any general knowledge and appreciation of the value of art in its application to the buildings, and the furnishings, of life, prior to the holding of the Centennial exposition, in Philadelphia, in 1876.
It may well be urged that, up to that time, this busy people were too fully occupied in completing the physical con
quest of a vast territory, in subduing forests, bridging streams and opening virgin prairies to cultivation ; in providing for the transportation, housing, and feeding of the ever-surging incoming tides of eager emigrants; were in short too busy in their imperative task of making history; to find time, or thought, for its artistic record! When, at last, they found time to pause and study the lessons of that Centennial, they proved apt students; as the Columbian exposition has shown !
Yet notwithstanding this later surprising and artistic evolution of the American people, so widespread and rapid has been the development of technical training in its application to industrial and fine art manufactures throughout the leading countries of the continent of Europe, and also, though begun later, in Great Britain, that, although the development in elementary artistic training and its facilities for the acquisitition of advanced instruction in these arts, in the United States, has been wonderfully increased since the beginning in Boston, in 1870, of the movement for school instruction in drawing, and the holding of the Centennial exposition in Philadelphia, in 1876; still, in the opportunities offered for the training of skilled youthful workers in the industries of applied art, the United States, to-day,- in view of the persistent efforts and great advances made during the past twenty years, by European countries, in providing such educational facilities,— are relatively, hardly in any better position to contest successfully with the products of the trained workers of Europe, than they were in 1870.
Nevertheless the efforts made in this country by leading educators, and by liberal patrons of artistic and technical education, have been notable, and most worthy of honor; while the great advance since the Centennial, as shown in the art qualities of American manufactures, in jewelry, in glass, in art fabrics in silk, in woolen and in cotton, as well as in architecture, and in all material pertaining to the decorative arts, has been simply marvellous.
So far, also, as affording requisite opportunities for acquir
ing thorough training in the fine arts of painting, sculpture and architecture, the few art schools in the United States compare most favorably with those of the older countries; so that it is no longer essential — though it may often be, for other reasons, desirable — for the ambitious young painter, sculptor or architect, to exile himself in order to obtain needed opportunities for instruction in those several arts. Nor are our leading technical schools of science inferior in equipment or in quality of instruction to the similar schools in Europe. These schools in the United States are, however, so few in number, in proportion to our increasing population as compared to the number and variety of those offered to the citizens of the leading art industrial European countries of Germany, Switzerland, Belgium and France not to mention Great Britain, Austria, Italy and Russia — that the inadequacy in numbers of our schools for training the captains of industry, not to mention those merely technical trade schools designed for creating a force of trained workers, impresses itself painfully upon the investigator in these fields.
With the increasing knowledge of the forces of nature acquired by the patient investigations continually carried on by scientists of every class, in chemistry, in geology, in natural philosophy, in mining, both in the methods of mechanical operations and in the reduction of ores; in short, in the general application of the discoveries of science throughout the various realms of nature, to the needs of man, which so constantly revolutionize former methods and create ever new demands; for example, in the endeavor to secure the economic production of electricity and to contrive the best methods for its application to human uses, not to speak of the similar needs in other fields, the demand on the community for the founding of institutions for giving thorough training in these latest discoveries of science is imperative.
In all these ever-recurring demands for the invention and application of methods by which to make these discoveries of science available in the industries of life, a knowledge of,
and practical facility in, the art of mechanical drawing,” becomes absolutely indispensable; consequently, this elementary branch of industrial art clearly forms an essential factor in modern industrial education, and, of necessity, holds place in all the elementary and higher schools of technology; hence, though its relation to the so-called “
“high arts ” may at times seem somewhat remote, its claim to a place in this report on art and industry is unquestionable.
To close this sketch of the beginning and progressive development of this important educational movement, without making honorable mention by name of some, at least, of the many enthusiastic supporters and earnest co-workers with the three men who were literally the pioneers in this momentous experiment, is to leave it incomplete, indeed. To give here a complete list of the many educators and lovers of beauty who gave it warm welcome; of the modest teachers who shrank from no labor in the effort to fit themselves to teach the unfamiliar lessons, were an impossible task. Great effort was made, however, by the writer in the volumes of the art and industry report, to secure full record of the names of all workers for this special branch of education. It may be said, greatly to the credit of our countrymen, that while there was at first, on the part of many, great and freely outspoken opposition to the movement, yet very many of the acknowledged leaders in educational circles — state or city — school superintendents, with professors in colleges and normal schools, gave instant and hearty welcome to Walter Smith and his methods; that the press generally gave support to the efforts to put both drawing and manual training in the schools, and that, as rapidly as the purpose and methods of industrial drawing were generally known, that movement won for itself popular support, while the movement for manual training in the schools was at once heartily welcomed by the great majority of the people.
One movement, almost cotemporary, for promoting instruction in the fine arts, both in the institutions of learning and in the community at large, met with cordial response
from many of the colleges and from numerous liberal citizens. As the result of generous gifts, public collections of casts from the antique became accessible in many institutions of learning and in many localities where, before 1870, they were absolutely unknown.
To patronize artists, and also to make art gifts to public museums and to colleges, became a fashion, so that great numbers of examples of the best modern art masters of Europe, are now in this country, either in the hands of private owners or in public art galleries. Meantime numbers of young American painters and sculptors are winning favor in Europe and America, while the art schools in this country are thronged with eager aspirants. Enough has been cited of American art accomplishment to convince us that one would no longer be justified in saying of this “era” of 1899, as was said of another era at the opening of this chapter, that “the one element absolutely lacking in all American education was the æsthetic !” Industrial art proves its worth to a country by its results, as shown in the industrial output. To record the amazing variety and exquisite charm of the countless productions of art work in metals, ceramics, and fabrics by Americans of this “era” would demand volumes.