Museum > Museum Exhibits

Walter Haskell Hinton: Image Maker for Deere

On Display March 14 - July 18
State Historical Museum of Iowa

In 1934, artist Walter Haskell Hinton painted his first calendar image for Deere & Company, the first of many commissions over the next twenty years. Hinton created an ideal world where the sun shines on perfect fields of corn and the smiling family gathers around its new helpmate, the green John Deere tractor. At a time when tractors were replacing teams of horses, Hinton’s work humanized the new machinery and conveyed a vision of the new farm, where modern technology enabled the farmer to work less and earn more.

In her book “Walter Haskell Hinton: Illustrator of the Popular American West,” art historian Jaleen Grove notes that, for farmers of the era, the “patriotic horse was the noblest and most important farm animal, indispensable in plowing and harvesting, and therefore the heart and soul of farming… Walter Haskell Hinton’s job as a commercial artist for John Deere... was to transplant the horse’s soul to the tractor, to interpret the tractor as a member of the family.” His work helped make the John Deere Model “D”, produced from 1925 to 1953, an icon of American manufacturing.

The exhibition includes iconic works from the Deere & Company collection, such as “Boy with Tractor,” examples of printed materials using Hinton’s images, and lesser-known works, such as his twelve-panel biography of John Deere. Originally created as a calendar, this painted biography portrays Deere’s invention and production of the modern plow as a key element in the taming of the American West and the fulfillment of the country’s “Manifest Destiny.” In John Deere’s life, Hinton sees the importance of hard work and ingenuity, not only in building the country, but also in pulling it out of the Great Depression.

Hinton was a skilled artist who produced advertisements and magazine covers for dozens of companies over the course of a long career. He took pride in his ability to create psychological situations in his work, and felt that, as a commercial artist, he employed a broader skillset that the more esteemed “fine artists” of his day, who could be limited by the expectations of their collectors. In his work for Deere, Hinton demonstrates tremendous creativity in presenting the product—a John Deere tractor—in a way that makes it emotionally appealing. His work is the forerunner of today’s advertising industry, which uses sophisticated psychology and visual technology to sell us products twenty-four hours a day. At the same time, he gives us a unique window into the 1930s. With their obvious idealization of farm life, his pictures for Deere look beyond the Depression to an era when daily life would be transformed by technology and industry.

All paintings and printed materials in the exhibition are courtesy of the John Deere Art Collection. The exhibition is organized by the Figge Art Museum, Davenport.

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