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"It's Good to be Home"
By David Cowan
The Pageant of the Masters triumphantly returns to Laguna Beach with this year's "Made in America: Trailblazing artists & their stories." Journeying from the American revolution and expanding over land and time, Richard Doyle's narration guides the show with charm and enthusiasm that extolls an extra sense of appreciation this year after 2020's postponement.
The Pageant wastes no time highlighting the "Made in America" theme with early American pieces such as John Trumbull's Declaration of Independence and George Caleb Bingham's Daniel Boone Escorting Settlers through the Cumberland Gap. These images of a nation emerging forward is especially timely after this last year. The subjects of the pieces, blazing their trails in unknown environments, reveal a type of determinism and vision present in pioneers and artists alike.
Beyond the tableaux, the sculptures and story of Edmonia Lewis blaze on the stage. Born on the 4th of July 1844, African-American Lewis was born in America and earned success as a sculptor during the Civil War but flourished after moving to Rome, where her race was not a hurdle. Her works in marble of Native Americans and historical figures culminate in The Death of Cleopatra, a sculpture that was the centerpiece of the 1876 Centennial Exposition.
From there, we expand west, witnessing the rise of the Lincoln Memorial and the Statue of Liberty in marble and bronze; these symbols of America endured dark times and have inspired hope in the hearts of Americans and immigrants alike.
Especially captivating is the segment The Roots of American Music which blends live-action and dance alongside the prints and paintings of the Jazz Age. The fusion of impressionism, image, and surrealism is a beautiful allegory of the broadening of American art, style, culture, and thought. The musical accompaniment, unique to the American culture, with Duke Ellington and George Gershwin, paints the mood with their music.
Of course, no survey of American art would be complete without the classic Americana of Norman Rockwell's Saturday Evening Post covers. His iconic images of everyday life, from a stop in the day with the Construction Crew, to a kindhearted minute in the classroom with Happy Birthday, Miss Jones, and look through clear skies in The Window Washer, all are depictions of little moments being made all over America.
Perhaps the most enduring theme of the Pageant is how artists of the past can inspire artists of the future. Matthew Rolston was brought to the Pageant when he was six years old, and seeing the living pictures left a profound effect on the future artist. Rolston's book Art People: The Pageant Portraits is a celebration of the hard work and dedication that goes into the Pageant production.
The Pageant of the Masters runs through September 3. You can find tickets for the Festival of Arts and Pageant of the Masters at www.foapom.com.
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