Today’s post comes from Mikayla Brennan-Burke, class of 2017 and Art Center Student Docent.

On a very foggy Halloween night, Assistant Professor of Anthropology April M. Beisaw dug up two images of crime scenes and dissected them for an eager audience. Beisaw examined The Last Victim, a lithograph by George Bellows, and a police homicide photograph by an anonymous photographer. Her presentation, entitled “The Scene of the Crime,” was the second event in the Artful Dodger series this fall. Many Vassar students and Poughkeepsie community members joined us for this discussion on the theme of murder in these works at the Art Center.

Beisaw first reassured her watchful audience that these two works were representations of actual historical homicides. The print and photograph documented authentic murders and were not staged.

George Wesley Bellows (American, 1882-1925) Tragedies of the War in Belgium: The Last Victim, 1918 Lithograph Gift of Arthur Pforzheimer (father of Louise Pforzheimer, class of 1929) 1928.1.1

George Wesley Bellows (American, 1882-1925)
Tragedies of the War in Belgium: The Last Victim, 1918
Lithograph
Gift of Arthur Pforzheimer (father of Louise Pforzheimer, class of 1929)
1928.1.1

While George Bellows did not witness the murder portrayed in his lithograph, it is his interpretation of the murder of a Belgian family when German soldiers invaded their home during World War I. Beisaw analyzed the print to see how actions of the subjects and the state of the objects in the room indicate a struggle between the family and the soldiers. By viewing the positions of the subjects, Beisaw was able to use her training as a forensic anthropologist to deduce possible explanations for what happened and how the murders occurred.

Likewise, in the crime scene photograph, Beisaw was able to analyze the space and objects of the room to infer critical information about the context of the murder. The photographer provided no accompanying written details about the victim or the situational elements of the murder. The only available information about the photograph is that it was associated with the town of Sewaren, New Jersey. However, by viewing the dates of the issues of the Saturday Evening Post by the foot of the bed, Beisaw was able to assign a time frame to the murder, figuring that it must have occurred between the years 1946 and 1950. Because of the presence in the room of objects both of adulthood, such as the tobacco pipe, and of childhood, such as old toys, Beisaw estimates that the victim was probably between 16 and 20 years of age. A small sign believed to be from the victim’s high school also gives indication of this. Beisaw was able to infer much additional information about the life of the victim, and the actions that preceded his death, by carefully noting the objects in the room and their placement.

Beisaw’s Artful Dodger presentation on crime scenes was a seamless connection of art analysis and archeological and anthropological exploration. In this way, the Artful Dodger series is an excellent opportunity for us to view art through the lens of another discipline.

Unknown Photographer (American) Police photograph of homicide victim (Sewaren, New Jersey), 1946 Gelatin silver print Purchase, Advisory Council for Photography 2004.15

Unknown Photographer (American)
Police photograph of homicide victim (Sewaren, New Jersey), 1946
Gelatin silver print
Purchase, Advisory Council for Photography
2004.15

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