"Pause by a Window," Kenneth Hayes Miller (1930)
Pause by a Window
Kenneth Hayes Miller
A well-dressed pair, a woman and child, are drawn to a store window filled with jackets, hats, and other posh clothing items. With their backs turned, the child holds onto the woman’s skirt while the head of a mannequin gazes back toward them, luring them in from the other side of the glass. Although a somewhat ordinary happening, the scene is charged with hesitation, making the viewer wonder whether the woman and her child intend to enter the store to buy new clothing items, or if this is simply a moment of pause to enjoy the aesthetic qualities of the fashionable goods. This etching by American artist Kenneth Hayes Miller, reveals his interest in the rising and thriving of consumer culture in New York City during the 1930s. A window shop displays the products of manual labor such as dresses and hats, appearing as desirable and accessible items for women. These products would have likely been handmade by seamstresses, many of whom were starting to join the labor force during this period. The image stages the contradictions that emerged with the increasing economic independence of women in metropolitan areas and urban centers, as a result of a growing consumer culture. The two figures are shown giving their backs to the viewer in a gesture that rejects a voyeuristic gaze. But the mother’s momentary distraction results in the emotional detachment reflected in the child’s gesture of vulnerability and fear.