We’re so used to seeing nineteenth-century America uttered through stylistic conventions that the Ohio street scene above strikes us with disarming clarity. The Cleveland artist Otto Henry Bacher painted it in 1885, after studying in Europe and mastering the hardedged “glare aesthetic” popular at the time. The radical composition suggests that he was under photography’s space-flattening influence as well. By using these new techniques he avoided the coyness often found in genre paintings and highlighted, instead, the casual wonder of everyday life.
In fact, this painting seemed so authoritative a document that we decided to go to Richfield to see how it looks today. With the help of the Richfield Historical Society, our photographer set up his camera on the very spot where Bacher had his easel (left). It is an agreeable surprise to find that although the impressive store, church, and granary across the street have been gone for a century, the modest porch and column are still offering the Richfield citizentry a place to perch.