Madelon Powers Gallery to Present The Sinking of the General Slocum

Posted by: Elizabeth Richardson on August 17, 2017, No Comments

East Stroudsburg University’s Madelon Powers Gallery will present The Sinking of the General Slocum, an exhibit of paintings by Cindy Vojnovic, from September 5-29.

A nearly forgotten New York City maritime disaster—the 1904 burning and sinking of the steamboat P.S. General Slocum with a loss of 1,021 of the 1,342 people on board—sparked an artistic journey for regional artist Cindy Vojnovic.

“I was astounded that such a huge disaster has so completely vanished from the public memory, even in New York City where it happened,” said Vojnovic, who began researching the disaster in 1987.

The excursion boat had been chartered by a German-American Sunday School group for an end-of-the-school-year picnic when it caught fire in New York’s East River, possibly from a discarded cigarette or match.

Though the steamer had passed fire inspections, the crew had never practiced a fire drill and the rotted fire hoses fell apart when the crew tried to use them. Few of the passengers —mostly city-dwelling women and children — knew how to swim, and the sub-standard life preservers caused people who used them to sink faster.

“The General Slocum Disaster has something to say to our own time; it was entirely the result of human error, corruption and greed,” Vojnovic added. “For many years I have wanted to do artwork based on the event that could reach people in a different way than an historical text or illustration.”

Vojnovic eventually decided to create a series of paintings but grappled with what technique she should use to produce the canvases. Looking at an old, black-and-white photo of the disaster, she “decided on an oil sketch, something small, that would not need the detail that was absent from that reference photo.” She also visualized paintings by Manet, Vuillard and other artists of the period who “were painting with a ‘modern’ suppression of detail.”

In first painting she completed Vojnovic “liked the dissonance between the title ‘Retrieving Bodies’ and what at first could be mistaken for a pretty little oil sketch.” She explained that she approached each of the successive paintings without any preconceived notion of what it should look like.

“The paintings all have recognizable subjects relating to the General Slocum disaster, and they all feature the paint itself, as in an abstract painting,” Vojnovic stated, “but the relation between the subject and the paint takes on different dynamics from painting to painting.”

East Stroudsburg University’s Madelon Powers Galley will present the premiere exhibition of the collection of 22 paintings composing The Sinking of the General Slocum September 5-29.

Hours for the gallery, located in the university’s Fine & Performing Arts Center, Normal and Marguerite streets, are 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. Wednesday and Thursday, and 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday, Tuesday and Friday.

A reception for Vojnovic will be held Wednesday, September 6, from 4-6 p.m. in the gallery. Both the exhibit and reception are open to the public at no cost.

Vojnovic earned a B.F.A. in painting from the School of the Visual Arts in New York City. She also has studied at Kutztown University, Pratt-Manhattan, the Parsons School of Design, and the Prosopon School of Iconology.

Currently, Vojnovic is supervisor of East Stroudsburg University’s Graphics Center. She also is an adjunct professor at Northampton Community College and a member of Arts Community of Easton. Her extensive list of regional solo and group exhibits includes Art of the State: Pennsylvania 2008 41st Annual Juried Exhibit at the State Museum of Pennsylvania in Harrisburg.

For more information on the exhibit or reception, contact the ESU Fine and Performing Arts Center at or call 570-422-3483.