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George Bellows and New York, 1900–1930

Rudolph Ruzicka
American (born Czech Republic), 1883–1978

Peck Slip

Woodcut, four color blocks
Museum purchase, 1919.6

How did Peck Slip, an East River dock located at the lowermost tip of Manhattan, smell on this winter morning in 1919? Ruzicka’s print invokes a magnificent sensory experience: the commingling scents of salt and brine wafting from the fishwife’s basket in the immediate foreground; the whinnying of horses cutting through the crisp air; the alternating chills of smoke and wind; the resistance of snow against shiphands trudging through unplowed streets. This woodcut invites us to imagine—and moreover to participate in—a snapshot of riverside commerce, as ships unload their goods in the misty shadow of the Brooklyn Bridge.

Ruzicka imbues the scene with a sense of working-class grit through his choice of subdued colors, and through the medium of woodcut—which involves carving the image in relief on a block of wood. Peck Slip reflects Ruzicka’s ability to immerse his audience in vignettes of city life. As his lifetime friend the famous American printer D.B. Updike noted, Ruzicka possessed an uncanny skill to see and interpret those picturesque qualities of urban life that might, to the ordinary eye, appear mundane.