Archive for the ‘Art’ Category

“And breathing figures learnt from thee to live”

Another item of interest about SARAH MOORHEAD (see previous posts) is her connection to a slave of the family called Scipio who is thought to have been a talented working artist around 1773. Sarah was a teacher of drawing and painting so it is possible, even likely, that she recognized his talent and was his teacher. But the only piece of art ascribed to Scipio Moorhead that has survived is the portrait of Phillis Wheatley, on the frontispiece of her published book of poetry: Poems on Various Subjects, Religious and Moral (1773). (See posts on Wheatley here, here, here, here. here, and here.) A poem, “To S.M., A Young African Painter, on Seeing His Works,” written by this enslaved African-American poet has been cited as evidence that the engraving was made from a painting by Moorhead. (A note by a white reader in an early copy of the book mentions Scipio by name.)

When first thy pencil did those beauties give,
And breathing figures learnt from thee to live,
How did those prospects give my soul delight,
A new creation rushing on my sight!

It is true that the Moorheads and the Wheatleys were neighbors and that the two slaves knew each other. However, the assumption that Scipio is the artist of the frontispiece has been challenged by Eric Slauter, author of the article “Looking for Scipio Moorhead” in Slave Portraiture in the Atlantic World. He presents evidence based on the Scipio’s age, his contact with other painters, the current styles in portraiture, and his appearance in ads for the auctioning of the estate of John Moorhead and that of his daughter Mary. The historian J.L. Bell, in his blog Boston 1775, is quite persuaded that Slauter is right. He suggests that an another black artist working at the time with several works attributed to him, Prince Demah, may have been the actual artist of the Wheatley portrait. See two posts by my colleague Louise North on Prince Demah here and here.

Eric Slauter’s article appears in Slave Portraiture in the Atlantic World, edited by Agnes Lugo-Ortiz, Angela Rosenthal (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2013), 89. Read the complete poem HERE.

posted August 17th, 2017 by Janet, comments (0), CATEGORIES: Art,Moorhead, Scipio,Poetry,Prince Demah,Wheatley, Phillis

Sarah Moorhead’s Canvaswork Picture

SARAH PARSONS MOORHEAD was a Boston poet and and artist (ca 1710-1774). Her husband was the prominent minister John Morehead (there are alternate spellings to their name) and her poems concern the religious revival of the 1740s. But I am interested here in her work as an artist and designer. This ad appeared in a Boston newspaper in 1748.

“Trades and Occupations JAPANNING—Drawing, Japanning, and Painting on Glass taught by Mrs. Sarah Morehead, at the Head of the Rope-walks, near Fort Hill.”

Japanning referred to Asian lacquerwork which became popular in Europe and America in the 18th century, local artisans creating works to meet the increasing demand.

Two antiques dealers specializing in textiles, recently purchased an example of an early Boston canvaswork and found the name of Sarah Moorhead inscribed under the sand liner. It was originally thought to be her work but noted needlework historian Betty Ring believes that Moorhead was the designer for this piece rather than the maker since other works similar to this were worked by youngsters suggesting that Moorhead was the designer, and perhaps their teacher.

During the 1760s and ’70s American women, boycotting British products, began making and wearing homespun garments. Spinning groups, organized by parishioners, often met in churches. One group met in the home of the Moorheads so it seems fair to conclude that Sarah personally sympathized with the Patriot resistance.

Boston Evening Post, April 18, 1748; and published in George Francis Dow, The Arts & Crafts in New England 1704–1775, Gleanings From Boston Newspapers (Topsfield, Mass.: Wayside Press, 1927), 267. Other sources include Slave Portraiture in the Atlantic World edited by Agnes Lugo-Ortiz and Angela Rosenthal (New York City: Cambridge University Press, 2013) and Antiques and Fine Arts Magazine “Sarah Moorhead Canvaswork Picture.”

“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

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