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Gerrit Albertus Beneker
Artist, painter, illustrator
This biography from the Archives of AskART:
The following is submitted by Katrina Beneker, granddaughter of the artist, August 2003.
In 1905, Gerrit Beneker began his art career as an illustrator. He married Flora Judd, his high school sweetheart from Grand Rapids and they moved to Brooklyn, NY. Gerrit's early passion was to create an art that would inspire and provide honor to the workingman. As such, he had no interest in painting portraits of pretty women, which were so often seen on the magazine covers of the day. Rather he wanted to seek out workingmen on the bridges, tunnels and skyscrapers of NYC, and paint them in their environments. He completed over 150 magazine covers, numerous ads including many for Ivory Soap and over 50 illustrations for magazine stories. Beneker was an idealist and an optimist. His early work reflects his connection to the hope and industrial energy of early 20th century America.
In 1912 Gerrit went to Provincetown to attend Charles Hawthorne's painting classes. Art works done during the next few years, demonstrate a skill in impressionist landscape techniques. Meanwhile, his studio works retained a traditional, representational style and he continued to do illustrations for the NYC art editors. Gerrit was a founding member of the Provincetown Art Association and was very active in the development of the art colony.
In 1918 Gerrit was asked to come to Washington DC to paint posters for the US Navy. The objective of the assignment and the posters was to foster support for the war effort among workingmen. His most famous poster, "Sure We'll Finish the Job", sold over 3 million copies.
The next year Hydraulic Pressed Steel Co., Cleveland, Ohio, hired Beneker as an artist in residence. His job was to paint the men in the factories and steel mills - to improve the relationship of labor and management. The assignment lasted four years. The family, now including four children, Katharine, Benson, Helen and Jean, returned to Provincetown for the summers. In 1920 they bought a summer home in Truro. They moved 21 times during Gerrit's career.
The "Industrial" paintings, as they were known, went on tour across the country for 12 years, until 1934 when Gerrit died, and they were stored in the summer home. In the early 1920's Gerrit became known as the foremost painter of American industry. Later he also painted on site at General Electric in Schenectady, NY. and at Rohm & Haas in Philadelphia.
Beneker was primarily a man of ideas, believing as Ralph Waldo Emerson did, that the highest purpose of art was to create character. It is not possible to separate the art from his beliefs, as they are one in the same. To promote his ideas and paintings, Gerrit traveled across the country, giving over 200 lectures. Speaking mostly on the role of art in our everyday lives, he would modify the topic to fit his audience, resulting in talks such as "Art in Business", "Art and Education", "Art as a Constructive Force" and so forth.
Beneker's works were published in 80 plus publications, including Scientific American, American Magazine of Art, Pearson's, The Mentor, Baseball and Ambition magazines. Art works included the opening of the Panama and Cape Cod canals, the building of the Manhattan bridge, the laying of the Atlantic cable, and over 30 Baseball covers.
Beneker's works were shown in over 250 exhibits, from the Midwest to the Northeast and Southern states. Nearly 90 magazine and newspaper articles mention his artwork, many focusing on his role as a champion of the workingman, and several written by Gerrit himself.
Beneker painted about 500 oil paintings over his nearly 30 year career, not including those done for magazine illustrations. His primary expertise lay in his portraits, which included not only the industrials but also many paintings of friends and family and several of Cape Cod fishermen. These represent about a third of his paintings. His landscapes and marine paintings together represent more than half of his painting and include a majority of harbors scenes. He also painted around several still life pictures and a few paintings of the mountains in New Hampshire and Vermont.
"Moments in Time, Gerrit Beneker A Retrospective", Provincetown Art Association and Museum, Exhibited from July 11, - Sept. 7th, 2003. Catalog by Katrina Beneker.
"A Community of Artists", Provincetown Art Association and Museum's National Tour, 2002-2005.
"Boston Art Club 1855-1950", Vose Galleries of Boston, Catalog by Nancy Allyn Jarzombek, 2000.
"A Century of Impressionism on Cape Cod", Cape Museum of Fine Arts, Catalog by Cindy Nickerson, 1999
"Gerrit A. Beneker, Painter of American Industry", Vose Galleries of Boston Exhibition, Catalog by Liasson, Mara, about 1975.
"Museum's Exhibits Celebrate Provincetown's Artistic Heritage", by Cate McQuaid, 'Boston Globe', p.C16, Aug. 29, 2003
* Son of Bartel Albertus Beneker, who had immigrated from Serooskerke in the Netherlands, and Pauline Catherine Steketee.