Wednesday, November 13, 2013

The time of Bread and Roses


Taryn Plumb

Lawrence Heritage State Park Gallery 
1 Jackson Street
Lawrence, Massachusetts
Through December 16 

It seems only fitting that Ralph Fasanella was born on Labor Day. After all, the self-taught painter born to Italian immigrants dedicated his life to America’s working men and women. One of his many subjects was the city of Lawrence, which once hummed with working mills and was the site of the now-famous 1912 Bread and Roses strike.

During his many visits to the city in the 1970s, he crafted sketches of mill life and machinery that would form the basis for the large, colorful, richly detailed paintings that eventually made him famous (especially among the common man). With the 100th anniversary of his birthday approaching, many of his pieces have “come home,” so to speak, in an exhibit on display through Dec. 16 at the Lawrence Heritage State Park Gallery. 

Titled simply “Fasanella’s Lawrence,” the show features more than a halfdozen of his paintings and working drawings of machinery, as well as photographic prints of his paintings that were stolen over the years. The Lawrence show is a preface, of sorts, to other national exhibitions forthcoming, most notably “Ralph Fasanella: Lest We Forget,” from May 2 to Aug. 3, 2014, at the Smithsonian American Art Museum. 

Born in New York in 1914, Fasanella’s dedication to the working man’s cause was initially shaped by his parents — he would often accompany his father on his ice delivery route, and he also spent time with his activist mother as she fought for trade unions and against fascism, according to his 1997 obituary in the New York Times. 

Later, during the Great Depression, he worked as a truck driver and in garment factories; after serving in the Abraham Lincoln Brigade to support the Second Spanish Republic, he became highly involved in labor unions in the United States.  

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