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Print A: The Empty Cradle

Essay/Description

Thomas Moran based this etching on a photograph taken by John K. Hillers (1843–1925).1 Moran and Hillers accompanied Major John Wesley Powell’s 1873 expedition to Arizona’s Grand Canyon, and Hillers took the photograph while the group camped at Kanab, Utah. The etching by Moran is an example of the artist producing a finished work based on a photograph by someone else. As painter-printmaker Nancy Friese points out, Moran did not precisely copy photographs taken by others when creating etchings, but used them as a reference.2

Moran helped Hillers take several photographs of Paiute people during their two-day stay in Kanab. According to Hillers, they asked the Paiutes to dress in clothing Powell acquired on an earlier trip to the region in the 1860s. It is unclear why Powell brought the garments with him on what would most likely be an arduous journey. Nonetheless, the clothing the woman wears in the image was perhaps not her own, but an outfit chosen by Moran and Hillers and provided by Powell.3 Moreover, Hillers noted that Moran directed the Paiute subjects to pose for compositional effects, dividing them into groups, posing them individually, and even suggesting facial expressions.4 Moran’s etching seemingly suggests he was sympathetic to the Paiute woman bereft at the loss of a child. We do not know, however, if the woman actually lost a child, or if the empty cradleboard was a prop, like the garments. Hillers’s account of Moran’s staging implies that Moran considered the woman to be merely a subject for a composition, not an individual with her own agency.

—Sandra Pauly, Henry Luce Foundation Curatorial Scholar for Moran Collection Research, 2021

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1 Wilkins, Thomas Moran: Artist of the Mountains, 123. Wilkins points out that in Hillers’s photograph, the woman is bare breasted, the fringed robe covering only her lap and legs.
2 Friese, “The Painter as Printmaker with Descriptions of Thomas Moran’s Technique,” 41. Moran’s etching Church of San Juan — New Mexico (1426.439c) is based on a photograph by William Henry Jackson (1843–1942). See also the related watercolor San Juan, New Mexico (02.843).
3 Friese, “The Painter as Printmaker with Descriptions of Thomas Moran’s Technique,” 41, 49n16.
4 Friese, “The Painter as Printmaker with Descriptions of Thomas Moran’s Technique,” 41, 49n16. See also Wilkins, Thomas Moran: Artist of the Mountains, 122–23.

Curatorial Remarks

Printer's proof. Sandra Pauly 3.17.22

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Title(s): 
Print A: The Empty Cradle
Creator(s): 
Thomas Moran Moran (Artist)
Culture: 
American
Date: 
1880 in plate
Period: 
Hudson River School
Materials/Techniques: 
printing ink on paper
Classification: 
Object Type: 
Accession No: 
14.410a
Previous Number(s): 
1426.410a; 21051
Department: 
Not On View

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