The Great Ohio River Flood of 1937 caused destruction across a number of Midwestern states including Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, and Kentucky, leaving approximately one million people homeless and causing billions of dollars in damage by today's currency. The timing couldn't have been worse, straining already depleted federal resources during the Great Depression.
In this work, regionalist artist, Thomas Hart Benton shows two women in a turbulent landscape, gray clouds rushing across a darkened sky, the rooftops of two houses in the distance peeking above the swollen water. The woman closest to the viewer appears hunched over, holding a wooden cane in her right hand. The shapes of the figures seem to be echoed in the barren trees in the middle-ground, suggesting a deep connection between the women and the very land itself.
The stillness and tranquility of this image belie the tumultuous history of this land. Wounded Knee is located on the Lakota Pine Ridge Indian Reservation in South Dakota. In December 1890, it was the site of a deadly massacre which left nearly 300 Lakota people dead, including women and children, at the hands of the U.S. Army's 7th Cavalry.
In 1973, the site was again the location of a clash between U.S. officials and members of the American Indian Movement (AIM), who occupied this church for 71 days, demanding that the U.S. government honor treaties from the 19th & early 20th centuries. Later that year, this church was burned to the ground in what was deemed a possible arson.