Chain Gang

Margaret Law
SAC 1977.2.08

oil on canvas

ca. 1931

24 x 36 inches

61 x 91 centimeters

Gift of Mr. and Mrs. John A. Law, Jr.

about the work

Chain Gang is typical of Law’s mature work of the 1930s and 40s. In her  own words, “I put down what I see, wherever I am, and the result is a  record of life in a small southern town.” Interest in real-life  characters and situations was common among students of Robert Henri. But  although obviously deeply influenced by Henri and devoted to the themes  of American Scene painting, Law incorporated modernist influences into  her work through her repetition of forms, simplified composition, and  vibrant color. 


Many of her works depict the lives and routines of rural  laborers, often African Americans. The number and variety of works which  deal with this theme in her oeuvre reveal a deep attachment and  interest. Since Law accurately depicted the visual landscape of a small,  early 20th century southern town, her works sometimes depict  politically charged or historically challenging subject matter. Such works, as in the case of Chain Gang, often depict scenes which no longer  exist in Southern culture, and as such reflect the changing historical  narratives of America. But they stand as a testament to the complex  social journey that Americans have taken from our nation’s inception to  the present day.  


The curatorial staff of the Spartanburg Art Museum feels it is a vital responsibility of Museums to preserve such challenging and sometimes difficult historical documents.

about the artist

Margaret Law graduated from Converse College in 1895 as that  institution’s first fine art major. She went on to attend the  Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts , Art Students League, Cooper School,  and New York School of Art. Law studied under both William Merritt Chase  and Robert Henri, but cited the latter as the greatest influence on her  work. After college she taught at Bryn Mawr Art School in Baltimore for  nearly twenty years, before returning to Spartanburg in 1936, where she  co-founded the spiritual ancestor of the Spartanburg Art Museum, the  Spartanburg Arts and Crafts Club, with Josephine Sibley Couper.