David Smith

Home of the Welder


In Tate Modern

David Smith 1906–1965
Object: 533 × 438 × 356 mm
Lent by the American Fund for the Tate Gallery and The Estate of David Smith, fractional and promised gift 2000
On long term loan


David Smith made Home of the Welder at his home in Bolton Landing in upstate New York soon after the end of the Second World War. During the war Smith had been employed as a welder, a profession which had restricted his creative work and which he probably identified with the millstone in the centre of this sculpture. The varied handling of surfaces in the sculpture demonstrate Smith's ability to use steel to pictorial effect. Other references to welding in the work include the gibbet-like yard-arm to the side of the main panel.

The sculpture is a highly personal depiction of the artist's studio and can be seen as expressing the conflict between art and domestic life. Details such as the dog (on the right) and the plant (on the left) confirm a sense of autobiography and introduce elements of the unexpected, reflecting Smith's admiration for Surrealist sculpture. The work can be specifically related to the constructed sculptures of interiors made by Alberto Giacommetti such as The Palace at 4 A.M. 1932-3 (Museum of Modern Art, New York).

In an undated letter to Marian Willard, Smith commented on the imagery in Home of the Welder:

Living room - Female pedestal on which grows a welder's dream flower. A millstone hangs around his neck related to his job. Duck sitting on a cushion - a welder's idea. Dumbells - Paintings and drawings made by the Welder in his room in locomotive works. Woman and jackass. Top of room - a head projecting from frame picture, Otherside - Welder's wife in the bedroom in front of a big mirror. Angular locomotive - A Woman made of locomotive parts, looking in mirror is a glamorous version of himself. (Quoted in Marcus, p.75.)

These comments relate to the sculpture seen from the front. The back of the work consists of an oval relief showing a reclining woman holding what appears to be a mirror or a flower. On the basis of Smith's statement above, this woman was his wife of the time, the artist Dorothy Dehner. The art historian Edward Fry has compared the image to a mermaid 'who simultaneously engenders and frustrates desire' (Fry, p.40). In front of this relief is a small dog on whose tail there is a tiny replica of the woman's face.

In 1969 Edward Fry described Home of the Welder as 'one of the greatest examples of autopsychoanalysis in the history of modern art' (Fry, p.41). His comment was part of an extensive interpretation of the sculpture which related every feature to aspects of Smith's personal life:

The symbolic meaning of Home of the Welder is elusive and ambiguous. Certain elements, notably the millstone and chain, are used as though verbal metaphors, to indicate oppression; the source of this oppression, however, whether home, marriage, or work, is unclear. The stand undoubtedly refers to his sculpture, springing forth like a plant from the woman-base that nourishes and supports it. The dog and woman, however, hanging as separate images on the wall, are ironically juxtaposed on the back of the sculpture: in a multiple visual and verbal pun, the woman reflected in the mirror is the reflection of the dog, who has become an ass and whose head and tail counterreflect the tail and head in the mirrored image of the mermaid-woman. (Fry, p.40.)

Further Reading:

Edward F. Fry, David Smith, exhibition catalogue, The Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York 1969, reproduced pp.40-1
David Smith, David Smith: Sculpture and Writings (edited by Cleve Gray), London 1968
Stanley E. Marcus, David Smith: The Sculptor and His Work, Ithaca and London 1983, reproduced pp.44-5

Sophie Howarth
November 2000

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Display caption

Home of the Welder was made shortly after the Second World War. The work reflects Smith’s personal circumstances. He had just been released from his wartime job as a welder, which he believed had restricted his creative work. The various elements in the sculpture relate to his dreams and frustrations at the time. It can be seen as Smith's coded diary. The millstone was identified by Smith as representing his job as a welder. The images of women and children may reflect tensions in his first marriage, from which he did not have children.

Gallery label, August 2020

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