Treasures from the Vault: William Richard Crutchfield

Elizabeth Goings, Exhibitions Content Manager

Let’s start off with a question: when you, reader, go to a museum, what kind of art do you expect to encounter? Serious, dramatic works providing extensive commentary on social constructs relevant to the artist’s time period or works relevant to the present day? Well, those kinds of works will naturally be there, but how often do you hope to stumble across artwork that’s been created just for fun? If you’ve ever been in the mood for a more lighthearted art experience, today you’re in luck!

William Richard Crutchfield (what a name, right?) was an American draftsmen and printmaker. He was born in Indianapolis, IN in 1932 and received his BFA from the John Herron School of Art at Indiana University, Indianapolis. He went on to complete his MFA from Tulane University in New Orleans, Louisiana in 1960, and after this he quickly found success. Crutchfield was the recipient of the prestigious Fulbright Scholarship in 1960 and was able to study in Germany from 1960-1962. Upon his return to the United States Crutchfield worked at both Gemini and Tamarind print workshops (each one is highly respected, and the opportunity to work at both is an esteemed accomplishment).

In the mid 1960s Crutchfield was making a name for himself due to his inventive subject matter: historical American modes of transportation juxtaposed in scenarios that are, frankly, out of left field. Today’s example, Meringue, embodies this perfectly. Meringue is simply a watercolor and pencil drawing of an old steam locomotive stranded in the middle of a meringue pie. That’s it! While there may be the temptation to really dig into this work and possibly discuss how it’s a commentary on how old technology will eventually become obsolete, that man is a slave to machines, STOP! Don’t do it! I realize the irony of an art historian telling you to not read into a work of art, but trust me.

William Richard Crutchfield. American, 1932-2015. Meringue. Watercolor and pencil on paper, 1975. Gift of Mr. and Mrs. Sam Dorsky, 1977. Photographed by FWMoA.

It’s likely that Meringue is part of Crutchfield’s Americana series, which was created at the tail end of the Expressionist movement. Expressionists were known for creating work that was highly emotional and full of existential angst – just think of Jackson Pollock’s drip paintings. Pollock put all of his emotional baggage into his artwork, and all of the emotion and feeling comes through when you see one. But that’s not what Crutchfield wanted to accomplish with his own work. He wanted to create works that were just fun for viewers to see:

“The Americana series reflects my early interest in landscape of Southwest and early American transportation technology. The vehicles are pictured as stranded, hung up or marooned…I am not making social commentary about whether a man should not make machines, but rather I am watching the passing parade of the irony of existence itself”

–The Indianapolis Museum of Art website

Essentially, Crutchfield is just watching life go by and enjoying the ride. Does this in any way diminish his artwork or talent? I don’t think so. Take a look at Meringue. Yes, it’s fun and whimsical, something that a small child may create with their toy if left unattended, for example. But we can also see Crutchfield’s skill as an artist. He’s rendered the pie and locomotive with the attention to detail of a draftsman. You know how the topping of the pie would taste if you could try it and we can feel the steam of the locomotive’s smokestack pumping into the air. Crutchfield is no less of an artist for creating work that’s simply fun. It just shows that he was a man who chose to find the joy in life.

So, on your next visit to a museum, whether FWMoA or another institution, when you’re viewing artwork full of emotion or cultural commentary and you come across a fun piece that seems to be just that, fun, don’t second guess yourself. There really is a chance that the artist wanted to create artwork that was entertaining and whimsical. It’s the dessert that sweetens the palate after a heavy meal.

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