After Atlanta, it’s a wet, twisting Appalachian road that leads to Greenville, South Carolina and its Hopper picture.
A Truly American Road to Greenville
The road bisects man-made Tennessee Valley Authority lakes which spill into whitewater rapids. Thereafter, it leads to north Georgian escapes where wealthy Atlantans sit on deck chairs by the lake. Here, they sip mint juleps and watch their neighbors jet by in speedboats.
The road continues through the isolated, age-old poverty of western North Carolina. Not unpleasantly, the asphalt is shrouded by barbecue smoke and black diesel exhaust.
It is a beautiful road, a truly American one. At the end of it lies the small, quintessentially Southern town of Greenville, South Carolina. The main street in Grenville is called Main Street and is lined by old trees.
At the end of Main Street, the town’s creek cascades over rocks. Recently, thus waterfall became the centerpiece of Greenville’s new Falls Park.
Greenville, South Carolina: Cloyingly Idyllic
On the Sunday afternoon I arrive, young couples, half-naked children and people reading books congregate in and around the falls. They clamber over rocks, jump into the water and jog along the paths. Ducks shepherd ducklings past blooming flower beds and well-behaved dogs on leashes.
Black and white co-exist happily, the sun shines strongly through a blue sky and orange signs point the way to the latest charity walk.
In short, it is awful: cloyingly idyllic, claustrophobic and depressing for all but the cheeriest of dispositions.
Greenville’s Hopper Watercolor – Baptistry of St John
Just up the road from this Rockwellian scene lives Edward Hopper’s watercolor Baptistry of St. John (1929). Interestingly, Baptistry of St. John only joined the Greenville County Museum of Art’s permanent collection in 1997.
Unsurprisingly, the Grenville County Museum of Art’s collection is focused on artists from the South, particularly South Carolina. The Grenville County Museum of Art’s collection includes a large group of prints and paintings by Jasper Johns. Sadly, South Carolina only championed Johns after he found recognition outside it.
The Greenville County Museum of Art’s collection also includes portraits of South Carolina life, most noteworthy in the Charleston Renaissance section, in which Hopper’s watercolor sits.
Painted during a road trip to Charleston in April, 1929, Baptistry of St. John depicts the baptistry of St. John’s Lutheran Church. Almost black and white in its coloration, it is not a particularly compelling picture in contrast to other Hopper watercolors. But it does have some Hopper touches.
In the far corner, the pulpit’s steps lead up and out of the frame. This exemplifies Hopper’s fascination with stairways and their connection with the unknown. Just behind the baptistry lurks a lovely triangle of yellow. This color is similar to the incandescent light he would find in his movie theatre paintings.
Edward and Jo Hopper’s traveled all around the US, from Wyoming to South Carolina to Vermont.
All in all, it’s ironic that Hopper, that most New English of painters, would be included in a museum’s Southern Collection. However, Hopper’s depictions of his destinations have often returned to their original homes.