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The Art of JAMA |

The Smiths W. Blair Bruce

Thomas B. Cole, MD, MPH
JAMA. 2014;312(3):214-215. doi:10.1001/jama.2013.279615.
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Before the rise of the automobile, the movement of people and goods depended on the skill of blacksmiths to keep wagons in good working order. Wagon wheel tires, which were made of iron, functioned as durable shoes and also as straps to bind rims and spokes together. If a tire worked loose from its wooden rim, it had to be heated in a forge and tightened with clamps and muscle power, as in this painting, The Smiths (also Les charrons; TheWheelwrights), by the Canadian Swedish painter W. Blair Bruce (1859-1906). In the painting, the crew leader levers a tire onto the forge while the other smiths grasp the heated metal with tongs. They will reheat and tighten the tire until it fits the wheel and then will heat it once more to trim the excess width from the section of the tire that was compressed. In the foreground of the painting a hot tire lies burning in the leaf debris, and in the background, to the right, a man carries water from the river. Imaginary lines from the burning tire to the water carrier and from the crew leader to the man in the blue jacket cross at the center of the action. The limbs and torsos of the blacksmiths are flexed, and their shirts are bathed in sweat.

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W. Blair Bruce (1859-1906), The Smiths, 1894, Canadian. Oil on canvas. 127.8 × 198.8 cm. Courtesy of the National Gallery of Canada (http://www.gallery.ca/en/index.php), Ottawa, Ontario. Photo © NGC.

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