Alfred Hutty, an American painter and etcher, was infatuated with South Carolina. He was born in Grand Haven, Michigan, in 1877. In 1919 Hutty discovered South Carolina, Charleston in particular, and told his wife, “Come quickly. Have found heaven.”
Hutty had traveled and lived in many cities in America. He lived in Kansas City working as a stained glass designer, as well as New York working at Tiffany Glass Studios. Hutty was very involved in the art community, but did not explore etching until he was in his forties, and in South Carolina. Hutty went to Charleston because he wanted to move somewhere warm during the cold northern winters. He lived in Charleston, but maintained an art studio in New York until his death in 1954.
Deep South is a drypoint etching done in about 1925. The process of etching is very intricate: the artist’s “canvas” is a thin sheet of copper covered with an acid-resistant ground of wax. The artist draws into the ground with a needle, and uses acid to etch into the copper plate. After that, the ground is wiped off and ink is poured into the etched lines. Finally, the copper plate with ink is pressed against paper, creating the image. [Curator’s note: drypoint etching simplifies this process somewhat, as the artist simply scratches lines into the bare copper plate. Although this reduces the number of steps needed to create the print, drypoint etching is physically more difficult, requiring a higher level of skill and control to create a detailed image.]
The etching Deep South shows two African American people, possibly a couple, walking. The woman carries a large sack over her shoulder and the man holds a farming tool. They are walking through large, mossy trees, typical of the swamps and wetlands of the Deep South. The deeply etched lines in this piece create rich darks, contrasting with the highlights. The composition is very dynamic, with trees leaning one way while the couple walk in the other direction.
The couple looks poor. In 1919, the boll weevil beetle destroyed the cotton crop. Many farmers and laborers had to move north, where better work, education, and opportunities were available. This was one cause of the Great Migration between 1910 and 1940. Many African Americans moved in this period to find work, gain the right to vote, and live a more free life. In Deep South, the couple could be leaving Charleston and heading north. The farming tool denotes the man could possibly be leaving work.
I consider this piece modern because of its subject matter. Hutty expresses the struggle and emotion of African Americans in the South through his etching.
This week’s post was researched and written by Elizabeth Hahn, a student in “History of 20th Century Art.”