John “Jack” Savitsky
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  • John “Jack” Savitsky (1910–1991)
  • Lansford, Pennsylvania
  • 1964
  • Oil on Masonite
  • 24 x 48 in.
  • American Folk Art Museum, gift of David L. Davies, 2008.4.16
  • Pennsylvania artist Jack Savitsky's Sunrise is dominated by a glorious golden sun whose deeply textured and patterned rays occupy three-quarters of the composition. In the balance of the work, Savitsky painted a town much like his own—twenty-six identical dwellings laid out in a row and bounded at each end by a church and a school. In the foreground, a symmetrical band of grass sways toward a central axis, and a ribbonlike procession of figures—old and young men and women, along with children and a few dogs, all in profile—follows a man in a horse-drawn wagon. This painting exemplifies the artist's mature style—a cartoonlike shorthand of outlined forms in pencil, pen, and paint filled in with clear, unmixed colors—which evolved from an earlier, more naturalistic mode of expression. Savitsky's terse inscription on the back suggests that narrowness of routine in Lansford: "Sunrise in the coal region. / I went to school. / I went to work. / And on pay day, I went out and got drunk."

    Savitsky was born in Silver Creek (now New Philadelphia), Pennsylvania, to immigrant parents from Russia and Poland who settled in eastern Pennsylvania in the latter part of the nineteenth century. His father worked in the rich anthracite mines, and for Savitsky life was difficult, dirty, and dangerous from an early age; he started work as a slate picker at the age of 12 and joined the miners soon thereafter. After years of labor in the region, he settled in Lansford, where he eventually found work in the No. 9 Coaldale Colliery. He saved enough money to purchase a red brick house, where he lived with his wife, Mae Spack, and their son, John Jr. Over the course of thirty-two years underground, he developed many ailments—black lung and emphysema among them—and when the mine closed in 1969, he retired. While he always had an interest in art, it was only during his retirement that he began to draw and paint, first as recreation and later as a way to make money.
  • Photo by John Parnell