New Voortrekker 2018
Ash, American cypress, maple, pine, mirror
72 × 93 × 22 inches; 183 × 236 × 56 cm

In New Voortrekker an abstracted vehicle pulls an intricately detailed cart up an incline. Wagon wheels first appeared in the artist’s work in 1981, with the monumental sculpture Desire. Since then, covered wagons — symbols of settlers and pioneers — have appeared in several other sculptures, including The Rest (2009–10) and The Load (2012). Puryear has said that for him these carts are associated with “the idea of escaping into an unknown future, of traveling to safety, of taking dreams of advancement with you.” Notably, the vehicle’s modern appearance contrasts with the antiquated design of the covered wagon.

A spiral staircase and a small mirror are visible through the lattice of the cart’s exterior. Spirals and ladders, which in Puryear’s work invoke a winding and indirect path of ascension and progress, also appear in earlier sculptures such as Ladder for Booker T. Washington (1996).

This sculpture’s title refers to the Voortrekkers, a group of nineteenth-century Dutch settlers in South Africa who fled British rule in the Cape Colony on what has become known as the Great Trek (1835–46). Later mythologized as an independence movement by twentieth-century Afrikaner nationalists, the Great Trek also led to the violent seizure of land and the subjugation of the indigenous population. Puryear invokes the Voortrekkers as precursors to those Americans (“survivalists” or “preppers”) who would retreat from the current and future state of US society into an idealized past.

<p><em>New Voortrekker</em> in progress at the artist’s studio, 2018</p>

New Voortrekker in progress at the artist’s studio, 2018

<p><em>Desire</em> 1981<br />Panza Collection, Varese</p>

Desire 1981
Panza Collection, Varese

<p><em>The Rest</em> 2009–10<br />Private collection</p>

The Rest 2009–10
Private collection

<p><em>The Load</em> 2012<br />Glenstone Museum, Potomac, Maryland</p>

The Load 2012
Glenstone Museum, Potomac, Maryland