Monday, January 30, 2012

Emancipation Tableau

Emancipation Tableau, Acrylic, 24 x 30, 2012

I recently completed this tableau illustrating the Jan. 1, 1863 signing of the Emancipation Proclamation with a collective portrait of those most involved and responsible for the abolition of slavery in this country.  It is not intended as a literal depiction; the figures painted are not all shown as they would have been in 1863 (John Brown, for instance, had been hanged years before) and the relative heights are not necessarily accurate. 

In the center, seated, ready to sign is Abraham Lincoln.  To his left is his Vice-President Hannibal Hamlin, an abolitionist from Maine who also served in the House, the Senate, as a governor, and ambassador, and to his right is Representative Thaddeus Stevens, chairman of the Way and Means Committee, so powerful he was called the Dictator of the House.  Stevens is often seen, unjustly, in an unfavorable light owing to his vindictive quest to impeach President Andrew Johnson, but history upholds his views and his vision.  He was not only an ardent supporter of equality and education for freed slaves, he strongly believed that diversity, ethnic and cultural, serves to enrich society -- not a common opinion at the time.  Standing, from left to right, is John Brown, a figure of tremendous power and intense conviction, even though he was just a simple farmer.  Despite his radical militarism, of which few approved, he was revered as a martyr.  Next to him was his initial supporter in Kansas, Amos Adams Lawrence, a philanthropist who contributed to the colonization of Liberia and sent rifles to help the northern settlers in Kansas who were being threatened there by Southerners who were mostly paid thugs.  Lawrence, Kansas, was named for him; he later put up money for the college there and for Lawrence College in Appleton, WI, a city named after his father-in-law.  His father Amos and uncle Abbott, who founded Lawrence, MA,  were Boston Brahmins, among the wealthiest men in the country, and the family established the tradition and the standard of American philanthropy.  William Lloyd Garrison was publisher of The Liberator and the most influential and well-known abolitionist.  Robert Purvis was a collaborator and philanthropist.  He was originally from Charleston, his father being English, his maternal grandparents, Jewish and black Moorish.  He was educated as a gentleman, attended Amherst College, and inherited considerable wealth that he choose to use to benefit the cause of emancipation and equal rights.  Frederick Douglass, run-away slave with a black mother and a white father, an accomplished  orator and writer, was one of the great Americans of the 19th Century and was the symbol of emancipation and of the Negro race.    General Ulysses S. Grant, not only a great military leader but a quiet, modest man of great humanity, was most responsible for winning the Civil War.  Colonel Robert Gould Shaw, a dashing figure from a wealthy family, commanded a colored regiment from Massachusetts that proved the worth of the African-American soldier.  He would die heroically with his men and be remembered as a hero.  Harriet Tubman, like Douglass, a former slave from Maryland, was active in the Underground Railroad and had an extraordinary and valiant career working for abolition and other causes.   John Greenleaf Whittier, a Quaker, campaigned tirelessly against slavery and used his poetry to aid the cause.  Harriet Beecher Stowe, sister of celebrated preacher Henry Ward Beecher, was a novelist whose first book, Uncle Tom's Cabin, written in 1851 when she was 39, had a profound impact on people's attitude toward slavery.

What the painting commemorates has personal significance for me because in my mother's family were many abolitionists and I am, in fact, related to several of the figures depicted.   My mother's great-grandfather, Elijah Whittier Blaisdell was a publisher in Vermont who printed abolitionist tracts and pamphlets.  His son, Elijah Whittier Blaisdell, Jr. came to Rockford, IL in 1853, was a founder of the Republican Party, and published a newspaper, the Rockford Republican, which supported the cause of abolition.  He met Abraham Lincoln at a meeting of newspaper publishers and was so impressed with him that he became the first to support Lincoln for President -- in 1856.  My great-grandfather served in the Illinois State legislature in 1859 and had the opportunity to vote for Lincoln for Senator.   Lincoln was, in fact, a distant relation: Blaisdell's fourth great-grandmother, Mary Gilman was the sister of Blanche Gilman who married Edward Lincoln, Abe's immigrant ancestor.  His wife, my great-grandmother, Elizabeth Woodbridge Lawrence, had a brother, Charles B. Lawrence who became an abolitionist after going south for his health and working as a schoolmaster in Mississippi.  As a lawyer in Illinois (later Chief Justice of the Illinois Supreme Court)  he was a personal as well as professional friend of Lincoln. --- John Brown is a descendant of Rev. John Woodbridge ( a grandson of Governor Thomas Dudley of the Massachusett's Bay Colony) and his wife Abigail Leete ( a daughter of Connecticut governor William Leete), as I am, and is a fifth cousin.  My great-grandmother Elizabeth Lawrence was not a close relation of Amos Adams Lawrence, but they both were descended from John Lawrence, a carpenter/builder who emigrated to Watertown, MA from Suffolk, England in the early 1630's.  However, from other connections A.A. Lawrence is my mother's fourth cousin.  I am also related to Garrison, and Grant is a sixth cousin.  Hannibal Hamlin, whose fourth great-grandfather was Miles Standish, had Plymouth Colony ancestry, which I don't, but through the Sherman family we have a common ancestor in 16th century England.   Colonel Shaw, also descended from Governor Thomas Dudley as well as from the eminent non-conformist minister Rev. John Lothrop, is a fifth cousin of mine as is Harriet Beecher Stowe. I am not related to John Greenleaf Whittier, but the Whittiers and the Blaisdells, my mother's family, were well-acquainted with each other, both living in Amesbury and Haverhill, MA.  My great, great, great grandfather's step-father was, in fact, Nathaniel Whittier, a second cousin of John Greenleaf Whittier's father.

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Thursday, January 26, 2012

Civil War Generals

Portrait of General George Armstrong Custer, 24 x 18, 2009

Portrait of General Ulysses S. Grant, 20 x 16, 2010

My interest in history has drawn me to do a considerable number of historical portraits, although mostly I've concentrated on women.  I've only scratched the surface with masculine portraits, but here are two I completed in last few years.  I painted Custer as he was post-Civil War, but well before the Little Big Horn by which time he had cut his famous long blondish hair.  I wanted a bit of a raw-boned look that characterized frontiersmen and soldiers who had to endure hardships, inclement weather, and bad food.  This image was featured as a full-page illustration in the February, 2011 issue of Civil War Times magazine.  The general Grant portrait is a little more traditional, less folk arty.  I have a fondness for the man: he is the quintessential Midwestern American.  I live on Grant Avenue, my grandfather's uncle, a sergeant in the famous Galena regiment, soldiered with him, my politician great-grandfather campaigned for him when he ran for President, and he's a distant relative. 

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Sunday, January 22, 2012


Brownies in the Kitchen, Acrylic, 18 x 24 inches, 2009

Brownies in the Backyard, 22 x 28 inches, Acrylic, 2009

Brownies -- not the edible or scouting varieties -- are household spirits that do work around the place when no one is looking, often for offerings of food.  They are a part of Scottish folklore, but there are similar creatures native to Scandinavia, Germany, and probably other places.  I thought that a group of them might ideally featured in a whimsical fantasy tableau.  My first picture placed them in a modern kitchen baking things and so forth.  Some are male, some female, dressed similarly, but not identically.  Pleased with the result, I did another, with the brownies doing tasks outdoors. 

Skeptical, but not entirely dismissive of their existence,  I regretfully haven't seen any evidence of brownies or their secretive labors, probably because all the offerings of food get eaten by squirrels.  I do wish they would do the shoveling when the plow pushes snow up on the driveway at two in the morning.  Of course, it might be the brownies, if not some other variety of fairy, that like to pinch my scissors.  I am still looking for a pair of small sewing scissors that vanished many years ago.  However, another pair of scissors, large sewing shears, were returned.  The shears, always in the sewing box, inexplicably disappeared a few years ago.  For weeks I searched high and low for them, couldn't find them, no one had seen them.  I lamented their absence when I was cutting out some material for a pair of pants I was making and had to use a small pair of scissors.  When I replaced the pin cushion to the sewing box, my hand hit something.  There were the shears!  They hadn't been there before, nor had  they been there the other fifty times I looked.  Quite a mystery, not the least part of it being why fairies, supposedly diminutive, would want such a large pair of scissors! 

I was delighted when the kitchen brownies were purchased by a noted chef and restauranteur.
The backyard brownies are currently residing with Washington area dealer Grey Carter.

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Thursday, January 12, 2012

Self-Portrait from an Earlier Life

Self-Portrait From an Earlier Life, Acrylic, 24 x 30 inches, 2011

For a long time I scoffed at the idea of reincarnation, until several years ago I began having flashes of memory from what I surmise to be former lives.  The recollections are like those you might have of when you are three or four years old, vague and fragmented and without context, but, at the same time, distinct.  In the earliest life that I can remember anything of, I lived in France somewhere, probably in the late 14th Century.  My father was a poor farmer with many children.  Since I less hardy than intelligent, he decided I would be of more use as a tailor's apprentice than as a farmhand.  I thus left home to live with a master tailor, who was kindly and taught me his trade.  I worked hard and made a success of the profession chosen for me.  My impression is that I made raiment for the nobility and acquired some acquaintance with life at court.  (I believe that my desire to design and sew my own clothes, which I still to some extent, do, is attributable to this former life.)  --- In executing a novel twist on the self-portrait, I decided to paint myself as I might have been in that past life.  To make the picture more interesting I made it a double portrait, myself as a 14th Century tailor showing some cloth to a client.  As the client I chose Joan, the Fair Maid of Kent, who, with her husband, the Prince of Wales, Edward of Woodstock, the "Black Prince," held court at Bordeaux.  It is a fancy, but a possibility that I served her.  I chose to paint her not only because she was one of the most fondly remembered women of the period, but because I am descended from her several times, she being one of my most favorite ancestresses.  My lines of descent from her can be seen here

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Monday, January 9, 2012


African Penguins Make a Trek, Acrylic, 11 x 14 inches, 2007

Penguin Painter, Acrylic, 11 x 14 inches, 2007

Penguins, in addition to being endearing and cute, are the most human-like of birds, and, therefore, candidates for anthropomorphic depiction.   Desirous of painting them, but thinking I couldn't make a realistic composition interesting enough, I hit upon the idea of doing a series of whimsical pictures with various types of penguins doing human things.  The result was African Penguins Make a Trek, in which a family of African, or Jackass penguins seek new habitat on the coast of South Africa, where, for various reasons, they are endangered.  In a second picture, Penguin Painter, a King penguin, the largest, save for the Emperor penguin, takes time off from fishing and diving off the coast of Antarctica to try his hand at painting.  In the pictures I add a few accoutrements and articles of apparel to make the penguins more human and I make the assumption that they can use their wings like arms and hands.   This is another idea I'd like to get back to, as there are plenty more ideas for penguin pictures.  

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Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Foxy Rose

Foxy Rose and the White Slavery Ring, 20 x 16, Acrylic, 2004

Foxy Rose and the Steam Yacht Adventure, 20 x 16, Acrylic, 2004

A few years ago I began a series of paintings inspired by the covers of pulp fiction magazines that were popular in the early 20th Century.  (The artwork in these magazines has only recently been appreciated.)  I started by creating a character and a  premise of a story, then composing a painting to illustrate it, incorporating the titles in picture.  One of the characters I called Foxy Rose, the Edwardian Crime Fighter.  The leading character was a spunky young English lady, the Honorable Rosemary Fox, the daughter of a Viscount.  When her beloved brother is killed by a criminal gang, she decides to devote herself rooting out organized crime in 1900 London.  There were two paintings in the projected series, Foxy Rose and the White Slavery Ring and Foxy Rose and the Steam Yacht Mystery.  I had other ideas, such as Foxy Rose and the Strangler of LimehouseFoxy Rose and the Cornish Smugglers, Foxy Rose and the Music Hall Murders, but I never quite got to them.  It occurred to me several times to actually write the stories suggested by the picture titles.  The idea attracts me more and more, even though I am already engaged in writing two books.  Perhaps someday I'll get around to it.  I would publish them as novelettes with the paintings for book covers.  (You can do this sort of self publishing almost without cost at

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