The Brooklyn Bridge: Walker Evans and Joseph Stella


The Brooklyn Bridge, a treasured landmark is one of the oldest suspension bridges  in the United States.  At the time it opened in 1883 until 1903, it was the longest suspension bridge in the world—50% longer than any previously built.  With a main span of 1,595.5 feet (486.3 m) it was  also the first steel-wire suspension bridge ever built. At the time the bridge was completed, its towers were the tallest structures in the Western Hemisphere.

Completed in 1883, it connects the New York City boroughs of Manhattan and Brooklyn by spanning the East River.

The Brooklyn Bridge was initially designed by German immigrant John August Roebling. After an accident that eventually lead to his death, Roebling’s 32 year-old son Washington was placed in charge of the project.  Washington Roebling also suffered a paralyzing injury as a result of decompression sickness shortly after the beginning of construction on January 3, 1870, called “caisson disease”.  After Roebling’s debilitating condition left him unable to physically supervise the construction firsthand, his wife Emily Warren Roebling  stepped in and provided the critical written link between her husband and the engineers on-site.

The Brooklyn Bridge was completed thirteen years later and was opened for use on       May 24, 1883. Emily Warren Roebling was the first to cross the bridge.  On that first day, a total of 1,800 vehicles and 150,300 people crossed what was then the only land passage between Manhattan and Brooklyn.  The bridge cost $15.5 million to build and approximately 27 people died during its construction.

Walker Evans
As the years went by, that triumph of engineering and architecture began to lose its power to inspire awe. The bridge had become merely the unexciting link between the New York boroughs of Brooklyn and Manhattan; it was hardly even noticed by the harried commuters who crossed it every day.  Walker Evans used photography and his gift to perceive something  familiar as if it had never been seen before to restore the Brooklyn Bridge’s original wonder.

The Brooklyn Bridge Walker Evans PowerPoint from March 1, 2011


The Brooklyn Bridge by Walker Evans  c.1929

Joseph Stella

Classically trained, Joseph Stella  broke away from the traditional styles he had been taught years earlier and adopted the Italian Futurists style. Futurism, an Italian movement claimed to be “violently revolutionary” in its opposition to the traditions that had prevailed in art ever since the Renaissance. Futurists state that the modern artist should not look to the past for material; instead, they must endeavor to express the civilization of his or her own era. In the fall of 1913, Stella was hailed as the first American Futurist painter and in the early 1920’s he had established his reputation as an important figure in American modern art.

To Joseph Stella and other progressive artists of the early twentieth century, the timeworn conventions of European painting seemed powerless to convey the dynamism of modern life.  New York City was experiencing  unprecedented urban growth and social change that was reflected in Stella’s art.

Brooklyn Bridge, his signature image, addressed the two aesthetic currents of his time—representation and abstraction—to suggest the deeper significance of this modern architectural icon.  A Futurist rendition could also account for more subjective impressions, the physical and psychological sensations it produced on the artist as well as the audience.

JOSEPH STELLA Brooklyn Bridge PowerPoint March 1, 2011

The Brooklyn Bridge by Joseph Stella c. 1919 - 1920

As we begin our 2011 Spring Break I would like to encourage you with these thoughts.

“Practice hope.  As hopefulness becomes a habit, you can achieve a permanently happy spirit.”   –  Norman Vincent Peale

“Hope will not lead to disappointment.  For we know how dearly God loves us, because He has given us the Holy Spirit to fill our hearts with His love.”   Romans 5:5

Have a good Spring Break!  -Mrs. S

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