Crocker's Norwich: Art and Industry in the 19th Century
The concept of the “Long 19th Century,” as defined by British Marxist Eric Hobsbawm, refers to the period between the years 1789 and 1914 beginning with the French Revolution and ending with the outbreak of World War I. This was a time marked by periods of blind innocence, industrialization, imperialism, and large-scale social change. For Norwich, the city grew into an industrial powerhouse by the end of the 19th century but still retained much of its natural, untampered landscape. Before the arrival of English settlers, the greater-Norwich area was home to several indigenous tribes whose trading was aided by the confluence of three rivers.
The same natural features made it appealing to European settlers who had come predominantly from Massachusetts and became successful farmers, craftsmen and industrialists. By the time John Denison Crocker was born in 1822 the city was prominent and burgeoning. Its industries, including ship building, arms and hardware manufacturing, paper production and textile processing, gave it the second-largest tax base in the state, after New Haven. Early homes in the architecture typical of New England colonials had been built around the Norwichtown Green and along radiating streets; in the Long Nineteenth Century, massive Victorian mansions were built along Washington Street and Broadway, around Chelsea Parade and Little Plains Green.
The stately homes of industrialists and commercial infrastructure in the city’s center and along the harbor, coupled with the remaining agrarian surrounding lands, provided endless subject matter for artists. Wealth brought by industry created opportunities for artists in sign painting, illustration, portraiture and landscape painting. Artists were deeply integrated into the business climate, maintaining studios outside their homes, mostly along Shetucket Street near the harbor, an area known as Chelsea.
This exhibition is intended to open a window into the artists’ work and lives in the Long Nineteenth Century in Norwich and to reflect the integration of art into daily life. John Denison Crocker leads the charge as portrait and landscape painter, mechanical engineer and pharmacist.