Walter Haskell Hinton: Image Maker for Deere
In 1934, artist Walter Haskell Hinton painted his first calendar image for Deere & Company, the first of many commissions during the next 20 years. In contrast to the everyday scenes of American life featured in the concurrent exhibition 1934: A New Deal for Artists, Hinton created an ideal world where the sun shines on perfect fields of corn, and the smiling family gathers around its new helpmate, the green John Deere tractor.
At a time when tractors replaced teams of horses, Hinton’s work humanized the new machinery and conveyed a vision of the new farm, where modern technology enabled the farmer to work more efficiently.
In her book Walter Haskell Hinton: Illustrator of the Popular American West, art historian Jaleen Grove notes that, for farmers of the era, the “patriotic horse was the noblest and most important farm animal, indispensable in plowing and harvesting, and therefore the heart and soul of farming… Walter Haskell Hinton’s job as a commercial artist for John Deere…was to transplant the horse’s soul to the tractor, to interpret the tractor as a member of the family.” His work helped make the John Deere Model D, produced from 1925 to 1953, an icon of American manufacturing.
The exhibition includes iconic works from the Deere & Company collection, such as Boy with Tractor, as well as lesser-known works and examples of printed materials using Hinton’s images, such as his 12-panel biography of John Deere. Originally created as a calendar, this painted biography portrays Deere’s invention and production of the modern plow as a key element in the taming of the American West and the fulfillment of the country’s “Manifest Destiny.” In John Deere’s life, Hinton saw the importance of hard work and ingenuity, not only in building the country, but also in pulling it out of the Great Depression.
Hinton was a skilled artist who produced advertisements and magazine covers for dozens of companies during his long career. He took pride in his ability to create psychological situations in his work, and felt that, as a commercial artist, he employed a broader skill set than the more esteemed “fine artists” of his day, who could be limited by the expectations of their collectors.
In his work for Deere, Hinton demonstrates tremendous creativity in presenting the product—a John Deere tractor—in a way that makes it emotionally appealing. His work is the forerunner of today’s advertising industry, which uses sophisticated psychology and visual technology to sell us products 24 hours a day. At the same time, he gives us a unique window into the 1930s. With their obvious idealization of farm life, his pictures for Deere look beyond the Depression to an era when daily life would be transformed by technology and industry.
This exhibition is on view October 19, 2013 through February 2, 2014.
Walter Haskell Hinton, Dinner Time, c. 1935, oil on canvas, Collection of Deere & Company, A01084.
Walter Haskell Hinton, V is for Victory, c. 1945, oil on canvas, Collection of Deere & Company.