There's no getting around it: Homer is where Bloomington native Reilly Rhodes' heart is.
Specifically, Winslow Homer, the great 19th-century American landscape painter and printmaker.
The artist (1836-1910) is the subject of a massive, lavishly produced new book by Rhodes, "Winslow Homer From Poetry to Fiction — The Engraved Works," released in mid-June to high praise and as the prelude to a major touring retrospective.
At 416 pages, with 485 illustrations and 40 color plates, its weight, both literal (at 9 pounds-plus it needs to be read at a sturdy table, not in easily bruised laps) and figurative, befits its monumental subject.
A connected traveling exhibition is about to begin touring the land as, per Rhodes, "the largest exhibition or works by a single artist ever to tour in the United States."
Rhodes is a noted art historian, and the founder, director and chief curator of Contemporary and Modern Print Exhibitions, a national museum traveling exhibition service based in Laguna Niguel, Calif.
Born in Bloomington in 1941, he is a descendant of Ebenezer Rhodes, a Dutch-born farmer and minister who was one of the first pioneers to settle in McLean County in 1824.
"My reason for mentioning this," says Rhodes, "is that much of the Winslow Homer story that I write about in the book focuses on the Dutch colonial hamlet of Hurley, N.Y., in the Hudson River Valley and, in many ways, mirrors the rural lifestyle and ways of farming that took place in the prairies of Illinois."
"There were differences of course, but it was also more alike than one would think."
For more, he says, the Rhodes family history and histories of many early McLean County early settlers are written about in “The Good Old Times,” by Dr. E. Duis, a professor in the Bloomington public school system of the late 1870s.
Chief among the book's offerings is Rhodes' extensive research unearthing new details in relation to Homer's engravings and paintings of the 1870s period, including heretofore unconfirmed or unrevealed locations for his some of his most famous early masterpieces, including 1872's iconic "Snap the Whip," which began its life as wood engraving (featured on the book's cover), then was painted twice, with environmental alterations in the second.
"One of the great new discoveries in the book," says Rhodes, "is the existence of early 19th-century tintypes and glass negatives that document some of the Homer subjects as well as the history of Hurley (the New York village where "Snap the Whip" was painted)."
The tour and book comes on the heels of the exhibit's premiere opening earlier this year at the Butler Institute of American Art in Youngstown, Ohio.
Featured in the tour, which is still being scheduled through 2022, are 240 original prints and several never-before-exhibited/published 19th-century tintype photographs.
"We would love to make arrangements for a showing in Central Illinois," Rhodes says.
The only catch: "There are few museums that might have the ability to handle the exhibition of this size."
However, he is exploring the possibility for at least one venue within easy reach of Twin Citians.
Until then, his book is our main entryway, and a stunning one it is, reaping praise as we speak.
From Terry Lynn Martin, of the J. Paul Getty Museum Research Center in Los Angeles (in a personal note to Rhodes, forwarded by him to us):
"It is a masterpiece, not only in its presentation but the way you have crafted a comprehensive context, giving the reader the full environs of what might otherwise have been Winslow Homer’s rather narrow life, which is in contrast to the magnitude of his art, his visual documentary, and his contribution to the American art identity ... brilliant.”
Ed Ames, the actor-singer remembered for his role as Mingo on the 1960s "Daniel Boone" TV series and an art collector, wrote the author that "this is an amazing undertaking of provocative thinking and research on the early work of Homer."
("Winslow Homer From Poetry to Fiction: The Engraved Works," which retails for $125, is available at participating museums or on line at www.printexhibitions.com.)