James R. Hopkins: Faces of the Heartland

Columbus Museum of Art (CMA) is proud to present James R. Hopkins: Faces of the Heartland, the first retrospective of this under-recognized American master painter and Ohio native since 1977, on view December 15, 2017 through April 22, 2018. During his time, James Roy Hopkins (1877-1969) was revered as an important contemporary artist, had paintings that frequently won distinguished awards, and was sought after by arts and cultural organizations. Faces of the Heartland spans his career and showcases his innovative paintings depicting the Cumberland mountaineers of Appalachian Kentucky, called the Cumberland Suite.

Hopkins was born in the small town of Irwin, Ohio and raised on a farm outside Mechanicsburg. In 1885-96, he studied electrical engineering at The Ohio State University before transferring to the Columbus Art School, now known as Columbus College of Art & Design. In 1904, he married Edna Boise Hopkins, an artist later known for her colored, modernist woodblock prints, and moved to Paris. While living in Paris, he painted elegant women and Impressionist nudes until the impending First World War forced a return to America in summer 1914. 

Hopkins’ next position at the Cincinnati Art Academy would lead him to create his most important works, those he made in the rural, Cumberland Falls, Kentucky area. In 1915, Hopkins was invited by Robert Stearns, lumber magnate, landowner, coal baron, and cultured industrialist, to visit southeastern Kentucky.  Between 1915 and 1919, Hopkins created pioneering works depicting farmers, traveling preachers, children, courtship, and life in the mountains. In these Cumberland Suite works, he painted the Appalachian people in a penetrating and distinctive style that brought him national recognition. He was the first American painter to do so and prefigures Regionalism and American Scene painting that emerged some fifteen years later. Regionalism is painting that focuses on the customs, people, and topography of rural and small town America. American Scene encompasses both Regionalism and Social Realism, which features urban and politically motivated works. 

From 1923–48, Hopkins is inextricably and enduringly linked to The Ohio State University. At OSU, he made the study, production, and teaching of art a lifelong commitment as the chair of the art department. Though his output as a painter fell off considerably, his tenure at Ohio State decisively shaped how the arts were taught there and raised its stature to national prominence. Hopkins Hall is named in his honor.

James R. Hopkins: Faces of the Heartland was organized by the Columbus Museum of Art. The exhibition was also on view at the Huntington Museum of Art (March 11 – May 31, 2017), and the Springfield Museum of Art (August 19 – November 17, 2017).

A monograph, James R. Hopkins: Faces of the Heartland, was written by Associate Professor of Art History, DePaul University Mark B. Pohlad.  It is the first extensive examination of the noted American painter, one of Ohio’s most significant artists, and was published by Trillium, an imprint of The Ohio State University Press, Columbus. Copies of the monograph are available in the Museum Store.

Related Programs
James R. Hopkins: Ohio Professor & Painter of the People
Thursday, December 14, 6:30 pm
Take a break from the hustle & bustle of the holidays and indulge your curiosity at this year’s Keith and Nadine Pierce Lecture on American Art: James R. Hopkins: Ohio Professor & Painter of the People. Each year, the Keith and Nadine Pierce Lecture explores American art related to an exhibition or the Museum’s permanent collection. This year, we welcome Mark B. Pohlad, PhD, Associate Professor, History of Art and Architecture, DePaul University, and author of James R. Hopkins:  Faces of the Heartland, a monograph for the exhibition of the same name. Admission to the lecture is free and all are welcome. To reserve your seat, visit columbusmuseum.org and click on Events and Programs

Image: James R. Hopkins, Under the Sycamore Kentucky Mountaineers, 1915-1917.