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The Critical Craftsman

H.C. Westermann was the quintessential American artist

But Westermann's optimism remains. One of the oddest pieces in the collection is The Last Ray of Hope (1968), a vitrine containing a pair of high-gloss boots sitting atop a linoleum dais. One reference is Maxim Gorky's observation that a good pair of boots "will be of greater service for the ultimate triumph of socialism than black eyes." The title echoes Abraham Lincoln, who, in the darkest days of the Civil War, called the United States "the last best hope of earth."

The Evil New War God (S.O.B.) references the money and power that send young men to war.
Menil Collection
The Evil New War God (S.O.B.) references the money and power that send young men to war.

H.C. Westermann is an American original. If he has predecessors, they are the cabinet makers of 18th- and 19th-century Boston and Philadelphia and, even more so, the Shaker craftsmen. If he has kindred souls, they're found in American literature: the uncompromising idealist Henry David Thoreau, the iconoclastic Walt Whitman, the death-haunted Emily Dickinson, the sardonic, irascible moralist Mark Twain. Westermann insists that patriotism is not acquiescence, that you can love your country and still criticize it -- indeed, you must criticize it. By all accounts, he was a tremendously vital man who never lost sight of the inevitable. He went his own way, confident of the path he was following, because it was the only one available to him.

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