Mill Workers, 1939
Oil on board
14 x 30 inches
Signed lower center
Singer was a small-town boy who chronicled small-town American life in more than 3,000 paintings. He was born in Malvern, Ohio, and his family was amongst the poorest in town. He started drawing at age five and studied at the Columbus Art School (now the Columbus Museum of Art) and the Art Students League in New York. The precedent of the Ashcan painters sharpened Singer’s impulse to capture the quotidian with a seemingly spontaneous hand. In 1934, no longer able to afford to live in New York, he returned to Malvern.
In Mill Workers Singer candidly renders a group of Malvern townsfolk making their way to one of the town’s five brickyards. He presented each man as an individual subtlety differentiated by his practical headwear. The inclusion of the dog suggests that the route these men take to work is part of an unchanging ritual. The painting may be specific to Singer’s hometown but the viewer also recognizes it as a scene repeated in many small towns throughout America. “The things I’ve done are little bits of history," he once said, "something I’ve seen, felt, experienced very deeply.”