During the early 30s, American artists began a departure from the work of their European counterparts. No longer content to merely borrow from the European modernists, these artists instead looked to their own surroundings for inspiration: Kansas farmers, Iowa fields, Manhattan burlesques.
Maynard Walker was the first to bring the work of these artist together. In 1933, the art dealer organized an exhibition of 35 American paintings, including works by Missourian Thomas Hart Benton, Kansan John Steuart Curry, and Iowan Grant Wood.
Individually, they had each achieved a level of recognition. Benton had burst into the public eye several years earlier when he exhibited Boomtown and then established his reputation with his America Today murals. Curry’s Baptism in Kansas received wide critical acclaim when he exhibited it in 1929. It was widely reproduced and purchased by the Whitney Museum of American Art. Wood first caught the public eye with his neo-Flemish Woman with Plants, then caused an immediate and lasting sensation with American Gothic. Together, they would became the “big three”, the triumvirate of the Regionalist movement.
Their positions were solidified when the following year, TIME brought the artists together again, this time in a sweeping magazine feature championing the birth of the “U.S. scene” or ” regional art”.
The article put Benton, Curry, and Wood at the forefront of Regionalism, but also linked Charles Burchfield, Reginald Marsh, Emil Bisttram and others to the new movement. While the artists differed in style and philosophy, they were united by their uniquely American subject matter.
Benton received the most attention in the article, implying his role as leader of the movement. The cover, the first to feature an artist, reproduced Benton’s 1925 self-portrait. Inside, paintings were reproduced for the first time in color. Indeed, it was the first time any major American periodical had dedicated as much space and attention to artists as to politicians or industry leaders.
Benton, Curry and Wood continued to promote the movement throughout their artistic careers, believing in the importance of creating a wholly American art form that expressed the ideologies, histories and experiences of the American people.