Archive for the ‘Art’ Category

“Dismantling History” —Titus Kaphar

My friend and colleague Louise North recently commended to my attention an American artist named TITUS KAPHAR. Indeed, upon examination, I find his work fascinating as it frequently deals with history—myth and misremembered—often focusing on the dark sides of events and those we revere as heroes. His paintings are frequently three dimensional or sculptural in nature; there are often layers which peeled away reveal previously hidden or unacknowledged facts or qualities.

In an article in the Art21 magazine dated Dec 2, 2015 called “Dismantling History: An Interview with Titus Kaphar with
Lindsey Davis,” Kaphar says:

I’ve come to realize that all reproduction, all depiction is fiction – it’s simply a question of to what degree. As much as we try to speak to the facts of a historical incident, we often alter those facts, sometimes drastically, through the retelling itself.

Understanding this has given me the freedom to manipulate, and change historical images in a way that recharges them for me. Knowing that artists throughout time who have attempted to retell history have always embraced, whether consciously or unconsciously, a degree of fiction, in order to achieve the sentiment of the facts is liberating.

Kaphar credits his art history education at Yale with fostering his belief that “obvious oversights in the canon were regularly understated, suppressed or ignored.” He set out to challenge the viewer, to probe beneath the surface, to gain new insights into the character of his subject. Two paintings strike me as especially provocative since their subjects have figured in this blog.

We sometimes forget that George Washington, the father of our country and acknowledged as its greatest president, was an active slaveholder. When he died there were 317 slaves at Mount Vernon, more than half of whom were dower slaves from his wife’s estate. Kaphar’s image reminds the viewer of this. The lower half of Washington’s face is masked by streamers attached by (real) rusted nails imprinted with names of slaves and excerpts from ads placed for their recovery. The work’s title “Absconded,” in all likelihood refers to the slave whose name features prominently, one Oney Judge, who in fact did escape and fled to New England. In spite of Washington’s efforts, she was never recovered. The Washingtons could not understand why slaves who were not mistreated would want to be free. See posts about Oney here, here, here, and here.

Another slave who also absconded was Washington’s chef, Hercules. Kaphar’s dramatic representation in tar and oil on canvas obscures Hercules’ face; he’s just another slave forgotten by history. See blog posts on Hercules here and here. Compare what is thought to be a portrait of Hercules by Gilbert Stuart with the depiction by Titus Kaphar.

“In the absence of adequate facts, our hearts rifle through memories, foraging satisfactory fictions.”

Read the entire interview with Kaphar HERE.

posted May 5th, 2017 by Janet, comments (1), CATEGORIES: Art,Hercules,Kaphar, Titus,Staines, Ona "Oney" Judge,Washington, George

“Frances . . . presented a very singular . . . appearance”

In 1837 the artist George Winter journeyed to Logansport, Indiana “. . . for the purpose . . . of seeing and learning something of the Indians and exercising the pencil in the direction.” In 1839 he visited FRANCES SLOCUM in Deaf Man’s Village (Deaf Man referred to Frances’s husband who was by this time dead) with the intention of painting her portrait for Joseph Slocum her brother. (See previous posts here , here, and here. ) Not only did he accomplish this, he kept a careful record of the experience.

Preparations were . . . made for the ‘sitting.’ An old split-bottom chair was brought in by ‘Kick-ke-se-quah,’ [one of Frances’ daughters] from the adjoining room, which I placed near the little window, so as to obtain the best angle of light to fall upon her. Frances Slocum presented a very singular and picturesque appearance. Her ‘toute ensemble’ was unique. She was dressed in a red calico ‘pes-mo-kin,’ or shirt, figured with large yellow and green figures; this garment was folded within the upper part of her ‘mech-a-ko-teh,’ or petticoat, of black cloth of excellent quality, bordered with red ribbon. Her nether limbs were clothed with red fady leggings, ‘winged’ with green ribbon; her feet were bare and moccasinless. ‘Kick-ke-se-quah,’ her daughter, who seemed not to be without some pride in her mother’s appearing to the best advantage, placed a black silk shawl over her shoulders pinning it in front. I made no suggestions of any change in these arrangements, but left the toilette uninfluenced in any one particular.
Frances placed her feet across upon the lower round of the chair. Her hands fell upon her lap in good position. Frances Slocum’s face bore the marks of deep-seated lines. Her forehead was singularly interlaced with right angular lines and the muscles of her cheeks were of ridgy and corded lines. There were no indications of unwonted cares upon her countenance, beyond times influences, which peculiarly mark the decline of life. Her hair, originally of a dark brown, was now frosted. Though bearing some resemblance to her family (white), yet her cheek bones seemed to have the Indian characteristics—face broad, nose bulby, mouth indicating some degree of severity, her eyes pleasant and kind.
The ornamentation of her person was very limited. In her ears she wore a few small silver earbobs, peculiarly Indian style and taste. Frances Slocum was low in stature, being scarcely five feet in height. Her personal appearance suggested the idea of her being a half-breed Pottawattamie woman rather than a Miami squaw. The Miamis and Pottawattamies have very distinctive characteristics in regard to stature and conformation of head and facial appearance.
The above description of the personality of Frances Slocum is in harmony with the effort of my pencil. . . .
The wigwam upon the Mississinnewa, at the “Deaf Man’s Village,” was a large, double log cabin, of comfortable capacity, such as characterizes the thrifty farmer’s home in the West. A smaller cabin was attached to it, in which a very aged squaw lived. There was also a small bark hut, separated from the main log, by a distance of a few rods. In addition to these structures, were a tall corn crib and stable, all of which, unitedly, constituted the famous “Deaf Man’s Village”—the home of Mono-con-a-qua, the “Lost Sister,” Frances Slocum.

Winter’s description can be found HERE. The portrait by Winter can be found HERE.

posted August 10th, 2015 by Janet, comments (0), CATEGORIES: Art,Indians,Slocum, Frances

“Balloon mania”

The Montgolfier brothers launched their first balloon (powered by hot air) in June of 1783. Jacques Charles and the Robert brothers, Anne-Jean and Nicolas-Louis, launched a hydrogen balloon from the Champs de Mars in Paris on August 27, 1783 before a huge crowd of onlookers. The balloon landed 45 kilometers away where it was attacked and destroyed by frightened peasants with pitchforks.
Another Montgolfier balloon, this time carrying sheep, a duck, and a rooster in a basket attached to the balloon, rose into the sky on September 19. The craft landed safely with the animals no less the worse for wear.
These successes spawned a slew of subsequent flights by various engineers and inventors, with human passengers, across the English Channel in 1785 and in 1793 in Philadelphia, the launch of which was watched by George Washington. There were accidents, of course, the first in Ireland in 1785 in which the balloon crashed and nearly destroyed the town of Tullamore by fire.

Percy Bysshe Shelley composed this Sonnet:

To a balloon, laden with Knowledge

Bright ball of flame that thro the gloom of even
Silently takest thine etherial way
And with surpassing glory dimmst each ray
Twinkling amid the dark blue Depths of Heaven
Unlike the Fire thou bearest, soon shall thou
Fade like a meteor in surrounding gloom
Whilst that unquencheable is doomed to glow
A watch light by the patriots lonely tomb
A ray of courage to the opprest & poor,
A spark tho’ gleaming on the hovel’s hearth
Which thro the tyrants gilded domes shall roar
A beacon in the darkness of the Earth
A Sun which oer the renovated scene
Shall dart like Truth where Falshood yet has been.

Not everyone welcomed this fascination with flight. One author wrote: “Let us leave to each its domain,/ God made the skies for the birds;/ To the fishes, He gave the waters./ And to the humans, the Earth./ Let us cultivate it, my dear friends.”
But the balloon craze hit hard and was reflected in dress and hair styles, fashion accessories like cuff links and fans, furniture and snuff boxes, as well as many commemorative objects. And it was the subject of satire. Here are some examples.

You can even buy fabric (below on right) depicting airborne balloons for your walls today at 78 £ per meter.

posted July 20th, 2015 by Janet, comments (0), CATEGORIES: Amusements,Art,Fashion,France,Paris,Philadelphia,Poetry,Washington, George

“The First, Second and Last Scenes of Mortality”

Prudence Punderson (1758-1784) was born in Preston, Connecticut. Her father was a Loyalist and fled with his family to Long Island during the Revolution. Prudence was a gifted artist with her needle and embroidered this picture, sewn on silk with silk thread, when she was a young woman. It is a “momento mori,” entitled “The First, Second and Last Scenes of Mortality.” Intended to remind one of the shortness of life, it depicts the three stages in the life of a woman—in this case Prudence’s: infancy, womanhood, and death. Prudence is the baby in a cradle tended by a black servant; she is the young woman at the table in the prime of life; and she is in a coffin marked with the initials PP. Sadly, Prudence’s life was short. She married Dr. Timothy Rossiter in 1783 and died in 1784 after giving birth to a daughter.

Punderson’s needlework picture is at the Connecticut Historical Society.

posted May 7th, 2015 by Janet, comments (0), CATEGORIES: Art,Death,Loyalists,Punderson, Prudence

“few people whose prospects of happiness exceed mine”

Eliza Southgate Bowne wrote to her mother on July 8, 1803, adding details to the account of her experiences in New York City she had described to her sister Octavia in the previous post.

Mv letter will be an old date before I finish it. You must have perceived, my dear mother, from my letters, that I am much pleased with New-York. I was never in a place that I should prefer as a situation for life, and nothing but the distance from my friends can render it other than delightful. We have thus far spent the summer delightfully; we have been (on) no very long journeys, but on a number of little excursions of twenty or forty miles to see whatever is pleasant in the neighborhood.
Mr. Bowne’ s friends, though all very plain, are very amiable and affectionate, and I receive every attention from them I wish. I have a great many people call on me, and shall have it in my power to select just such a circle of acquaintance as suits my taste: few people whose prospects of happiness exceed mine, which I often think of with grateful sensations. Mr. Bowne’s situation in life is equal to my most sanguine expectations, and it is a peculiar gratification to me to find him so much and so universally esteemed and respected. This would be ridiculous from me to any but my mother, but I know it must be pleasing to you to know that I realize all the happiness you can wish me. I have not a wish that is not gratified as soon as ’tis known. We intend going to Bethlehem, Philadelphia, and a watering-place, similar to the Springs [Saratoga], about thirty miles beyond Philadelphia: shall probably set out the latter part of this month. At present we have done nothing toward housekeeping, and Mr. Bowne won’t let me do the least thing toward it, lest I get my mind engaged, and not enjoy the pleasure of our journeys.
‘Tis very different here from most any place, for there is no article but you can find ready made to your taste, excepting table-linen, bedding, etc., etc. One poor bed-quilt is all I have toward housekeeping, and been married two months almost. I am sadly off, to be sure. We have not yet found a house that suits us. Mr. Bowne don’t like any of his own, and wishes to hire one for the present, until he can build, which he intends doing next season, which I am very glad of, as I never liked living in a hired house, and changing about so often. . . . I have been very busy with my mantua-maker, as I am having a dress made to wear to Mrs. [Rufus King] Delafield’s to dinner on Sunday. They have a most superb country-seat on Long Island, opposite Hell Gate. . . .
My picture is done, but I am disappointed in it. Malbone says he has not done me justice; so says Mr. Bowne; but I think, though the features are striking, he has not caught the expression, particularly of the eyes, which are excessively pensive. . . . The mouth laughs a little, and they all say is good,—all the lower part of the face,—but the eyes not the thing. He wants me to sit again; so does Mr. Bowne; Malbone thinks he could do much better in another position. I get so tired, I am quite reluctant about sitting again. However, I intend showing it to some of our friends before we determine. . . . Mr. Bowne and myself are talking of coming to see you next summer very seriously. How comes on the new house? We are to come as soon as ever that is finished. If you choose to send so far, I will purchase any kind of furniture you may wish, perhaps cheaper and better than you can get elsewhere. Adieu! Remember me to all the children. Dear little Mary! I can’t help crying sometimes, with all my pleasures and amusements: ’tis impossible to be at once reconciled to quitting all one’s friends. . . . Tell [father] I yesterday met a woman full broke out withe the small-pox. I was within a yard of her before I perceived it. The first sensation was terror, and I ran several paces before I recollected myself. As soon as I arrived in town. Dr. Moore examined my arm, inquired the particulars, and refused to inoculate me again; that he would venture to insure me from the small-pox; that he had inoculated hundreds, and never had one take the small-pox after the kine-pox. Adieu!
Your affectionate daughter,
ELIZA S. BOWNE.

Eliza and Walter Bowne would have two children. Eliza was not well after the second birth and she went, with her sister Octavia, to Charlestown, South Carolina, hoping to benefit from the milder climate. She died there in 1809. She was twenty-five years old. The last letter she wrote was to Caroline Bowne, her mother-in-law, on January 28. “I send by Capt. Crouch a little pair of shoes for Mary, a little cuckoo toy for Walter, and a tumbler of orange marmalade for Mother. . . . I can tell you nothing flattering of my health. I am very miserable at present; I have a kind of intermittent fever; this afternoon I shall take an emetic, and hope a good effect. How are my dear little ones? I hope not too troublesome. . . . Precious children!”
Walter Bowne went on to become the 59th mayor of New York City in 1829.

The first letter can be found HERE. The one from Charleston can be found HERE. The portrait miniature is by Edward Greene Malbone (1777–1807) and was taken from a POST of the New England Historical Society.

posted April 23rd, 2015 by Janet, comments (0), CATEGORIES: Art,Bowne, Eliza Southgate,Bowne, Walter,New York,Smallpox

next page

   Copyright © 2017 In the Words of Women.