What is it?
Richard Lorenz (Voigstedt, Germany 1858–1915 Milwaukee)
Woodsmen in Wisconsin
Oil on canvas
33 x 49 in.
Gifted 2018, Anonymous
About the Work
Until the early twentieth century, the northern two-thirds of Wisconsin were covered in virgin pine forests. The natural bounty gave rise to a logging and lumber industry that employed a quarter of Wisconsin’s labor force to meet the demand for construction materials in burgeoning cities. At the height of the industry, in 1890, more than 23,000 lumberjacks worked out of nearly 450 remote logging camps to harvest these forests. When the Wisconsin River thawed in spring, laden rafts were piloted downstream to the more than 1,000 sawmills that employed another 32,000 roughnecks to cut the timber.
Emigrating from Germany in 1886, Richard Lorenz came to Milwaukee to help paint the enormous panorama canvases that were in vogue and mostly featured dramatic depictions of Civil War battles. In his own work, Lorenz favored scenes of everyday life and activities that suggested the vast, untamed environment of his new homeland.
The Woodsmen of Wisconsin depicts a group of lumberjacks—tough, hardy men who traveled deep into Wisconsin’s north woods. It was brutally hard work: saws were manually operated, the weather often inhospitable, and the living conditions primitive. Here, loggers take a break from their work and gather around a fire, eating, conversing, smoking, or silently engaged with their thoughts. The rough-hewn table and make-shift tool sled suggest that this is more than a spontaneous camp, yet standard features of camp life such as the large bunkhouses are out of sight. Lorenz has instead given us what amounts to a private glimpse into the element of human community in an occupation marked by physical labor and rarely seen by the public.