A few years ago, the McClung was able to acquire the print And Now Where by American artist Rockwell Kent. The image features a man and woman atop a mountain looking dejectedly into the distance alongside their knapsacks, and was published in the middle of America’s Great Depression (1929–late 1930s).
The print was published in 1936, the same year the traditional American folk group, The Carter Family recorded their hit “No Depression (In Heaven).” The Great Depression was the worst economic downturn in the history of the industrialized world, which led to half the country’s banks failing and 15 million unemployed Americans.
While Kent was best known for his book illustrations and his popular natural landscapes, his interests turned to social reform and politics in the 1920s. He developed a style of bold, sculptural landscapes and solitary figures seen in our print.
Kent made the print for the American Artist Group (AAG) in New York––an organization started by Kent and other artists to make fine art available to the American public by releasing large editions in the affordable medium of printmaking. The lack of Kent’s signature was deliberate and reflects both the AAG’s democratic everyman approach to the printing process and Kent’s dismay with pencil signed prints. Kent accompanied the piece with text affixed to the back: “upon the receipt of this print and ten dollars I will affix my signature to it and return it properly packed and insured to the sender. But, dear collector, don’t waste your money.”
“No Depression (In Heaven),” was probably written in 1932 by James David Vaughan, songwriter for the Church of the Nazarene––one of several evangelicals and premillenials (those Christians who believed that belief that Jesus will physically return to the Earth before the Millennium) who saw the Great Depression as evidence that the end was nigh. As John Marsh puts it in his 2019 book, The Emotional Life of the Great Depression: “the Depression meant hunger and death. But for the Carter Family, and many of their listeners, the Great Depression also promised salvation.”
Not perhaps the most uplifting #SundaySong, but an interesting connection between our current moment, our Rockwell Kent print, roots and country music, and America’s Great Depression.
No Depression (In Heaven)
The Carter Family
For fear the hearts of men are failing
For these are latter days we know
The Great Depression now is spreading
God’s word declared it would be so
I’m going where there’s no depression
To the lovely land that’s free from care
I’ll leave this world of toil and trouble
My home’s in Heaven, I’m going there
In that bright land, there’ll be no hunger
No orphan children crying for bread
No weeping widows, toil or struggle
No shrouds, no coffins, and no death
This dark hour of midnight nearing
And tribulation time will come
The storms will hurl in midnight fear
And sweep lost millions to their doom
Just as the subjects in Kent’s image contemplate life at the peak of a mountain, we too evaluate our current situations as we approach the peak of the pandemic. With each passing day, we are advancing more and more towards the end of an era that has not only beaten down our ambitions, but has also given us a new perspective on the way we carry out our lives. By making his work affordable, this piece reached those who could relate to his subjects during The Great Depression.
Similarly, during Covid we are finding more and more ways to make sustainable choices and make up for lost time. Since the majority of people lost money during the pandemic, it is important that we create more equal opportunities for all to reach important aspects of life such as culture, which is one of the ways we can stay positive during this time of isolation. Through art and music, we enrich ourselves in cultural knowledge from the communication aspect relayed from the artist themself.
The Carter Family brings attention to the light on the other side, which they refer to as Heaven, where there is no depression. However, as we reflect on the turmoil we all go through during these Covid times, we must remember that the more we struggle, the stronger we become. As we near what possibly could be the end of a long, depressive era, our tolerance for disaster has enhanced and we have realized that we are in control of our own happiness. Everyone is experiencing some repercussions from the pandemic, but the fact that we are not alone in our feelings is reassuring. Kent created And Now Where to capture the shared emotions with which we all understand of feeling lost and unsure of what to do next. The Carter Family reassures us that with a negative, always comes a positive. We can reflect on these artist’s messages to help us through this troubling time and know that we are not alone.
Here is that classic song presented by the contemporary artist, Sheryl Crow.