Monday, June 4, 2018

"The Union," "The South," and "Distress" 8x10 on Gessobord

"The Union" 8x10, Oil on Gessobord

One of the greatest questions that continues to be debated even today is: Why did we fight each other in the Civil War? Answers are as layered as the fighting is bloody. Many agree that the main issue was slavery and the election of Abraham Lincoln. But for the average Northerner, argues Gary Gallagher (Distinguished Prof. of History at University of Virginia), they saw Union as the main reason for fighting the war. To preserve the nation as one and intact was of most importance. It was, in Northern eyes, what the forefathers fought and died for. And remember that most Northerners had the same prejudice about African Americans as the slave holding south. In fact, in 1863 (when Emancipation became real on January 1st) most Northerners saw it as a means to "ground down" the South instead of as a way to help the African American. Although, we would love to have some of the modern sentiment about slavery that we hold today we have also lost something precious that those who lived during the war years knew all too well. The preservation of something greater than themselves: (the very lives of their sons, fathers, brothers) this Republic. As Daniel Webster, said on the Senate floor in March 1850,: “Liberty and Union, now and forever, one and inseparable.” Remember that Lincoln's party was called the Union party (2nd time running for election). Also, he did everything in his power to preserve the Union. US Grant was laid to rest in one of the most expensive tombs ever created (his funeral procession was the largest every recorded: 1 million people lined the streets of New York) Why? Because he was the man who saved the Union.

You may go HERE to read the full review of Gallagher's book.

I chose to paint the Union as a grouping of trees. It is meant to be ominous as the fighting was terrible, fierce and deeply personal. I used a slight coloring toward cool to show the North and it's "terrible swift sword."

 
"The South" 8x10, Oil on Gessobord

I think it is easier, in some sense, to answer the Southern reasons for fighting the war. They were also believers in the founding fathers (A favorite hero of Southern men was Washington himself). Southerners believed that they had the right to govern themselves in the way they saw fit (as the constitution had allowed them. The Founding Fathers were slaver holders). So, for many Southerners they didn't see succeeding as an act of treason but as an extension of being American. And in some sense, a more TRUE American.

It is hard to argue that the Southerners only fought for "states rights" when those rights are rooted in slavery. Even the poorest Southern farmer would "rent" a slave for work during harder seasons from larger slave holders. They never thought of the African American as equal to them in any way and could not fathom a world where that could be law. "By the start of the war, the South was producing 75 percent of the world’s cotton and creating more millionaires per capita in the Mississippi River valley than anywhere in the nation," writes A&E Publishers.

One of the other reasons for fighting had to do with loyalty. Once Lincoln ordered 75,000 troops after the firing on Ft. Sumter in 1861 Robert E. Lee resigned his commission to the US Military. His main reason was that he could not take up arms against his own state of Virginia. 

I chose to represent the South through it's landscape as most of the bloodiest battles were fought in Virginia and Tennessee. I also chose to show it in red as it gives the idea of a fire). It is a parched earth, pummeled by war and death.

For more on this please go HERE.

"Distress" 8x10, Oil on Gessobord

From: Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, an American Slave.
In it, he wrote: “From my earliest recollection, I date the entertainment of a deep conviction that slavery would not always be able to hold me within its foul embrace; and in the darkest hours of my career in slavery, this living word of faith and spirit of hope departed not from me, but remained like ministering angels to cheer me through the gloom.”

It's hard to realize how recent slavery actually is in our country. In fact it started with the very first colonies to the Americas. One of the myths that we hear in our modern era is: "Slavery was a long time ago." when in fact, writes Daina Ramey Berry (Associate Professor of history and African and African diaspora studies at University of Texas at Austin. ) "African-Americans have been free in this country for less time than they were enslaved. Do the math: Blacks have been free for 152 years, which means that most Americans are only two to three generations away from slavery. This is not that long ago."

I chose to put this entire painting in shadow as we tend to not see things very clearly there. A good friend of mine pointed that out recently and I tried to share it visually. I depicted slavery as a mountain in mist and shadow. It is very dark and lonely in this space and yet there is this light of courage. I chose to use the light for the Abolitionists like Harriet Beecher Stowe, William Lloyd Garrison and Frederick Douglass himself. These voices that spoke clearly, sharply through the darkness and helped us see by their truthful light.

You can read more about Frederick Douglass HERE

Wednesday, May 23, 2018

"Lincoln" 48x36, Oil on Canvas

"Lincoln" 48x36, Oil on Canvas

There are books and books written on the life and Presidency of our 16th Commander in Chief. I have always admired him greatly but even more since I started this journey of exploration to know him, his beliefs, policies and humanity. Lincoln has been named the "great genius" from the Civil War. No other President spoke so eloquently (he wrote all his speeches) or made such strong stands for race. He is the author of the Emancipation Proclamation and the 13th Amendment. He also suffered from depression, the loss of two beloved sons and a nation that, in a sense, was trying to commit suicide. No other Presidency was tested as he was tested.

His election in 1860 divided the nation already seething with opposition and turmoil. For the South, his presidency was the nail in the coffin. In December of 1860 South Carolina was the first to secede. By February of 1861 Florida, Louisiana, Georgia, Mississippi, Alabama and Texas followed. It was the firing on Ft. Sumter that led Lincoln to issue a decree to take up arms (calling on 75,000 volunteers) to take down the rebellion. This led other Southern states into the war (they refused to fight their own people was how they thought of it) Virginia, followed by Arkansas, Tennessee and North Carolina. Lines were drawn and armies were being formed.

I chose to paint that division with a landscape flowing with fire and blood. It is s a very spiritual analogy as the "Pillar of Fire" by night was what God used to lead the Children of Israel in the desolate wilderness. I felt, the more I read about Lincoln, that God had used him (even as he came to the discoveries himself) to lead a nation through it's own wilderness. A horror-filled sin deeply ingrained in slavery. Clearly, that wilderness has not been cleared entirely even in our own time. But Lincoln helped to set us in the right direction. 

The image of fire is one of refining to me. A fire of holiness and justice. A fire that burns away the chaff.  It still burns today. Because we have farther down the road to go. 

Wednesday, April 25, 2018

"Folding" 12x48, Oil on Canvas

"Folding" 12x48, Oil on Canvas

Finished this long piece a week ago. A slice of cloud.

"Smell of Woods" 24x18, Oil on Canvas

"Smell of Woods" 24x18, Oil on Canvas

I did this from my time at Cuyahoga National Park. It has some beautiful woods and glades.

I'm so grateful for the places in our country that preserve and keep woods like these so that many can come and enjoy them.


Monday, April 16, 2018

"Tremble" 36x36, Oil on Canvas

"Tremble" 36x36, Oil on Canvas

I've been working steadily here in the studio for an upcoming show at the Nave Museum with the beautiful artist, Mary Tomas.

I like the juxtaposition of blue and red. When they are put next to each other (in the same value) they vibrate or tremble. So much can be said with the color red. I leave it to you, the viewer, to fill in the rest of the story.

Friday, April 6, 2018

"Even At Night" 20x24, Oil on Canvas

"Even At Night" 20x24, Oil on Canvas

I won't give you the details of Culps Hill during the Battle of Gettysburg. I will share that it was the only area of then entire battle to sustain action for all three days (July 1-3, 1863). If you would like to read more about the men who fought and the intensity that was Culps Hill (and Spangler's Meadow). Please go HERE.

I was trying for the feeling of a place. Not so much the actual area (as I haven't actually been on the field yet, although I have looked at photos of it). My painting doesn't look much like Culps Hill to be honest. I will share that it wasn't my aim to do that but instead try to convey something with a mood and color that was how I felt as I read about it.

There is an eerie feeling to reading about Culps Hill as it is the only battle that was fought during the day and during the night. Men literally were within paces of each other during the darkness and could hear one another, firing into unknown space out of fear. So many Mine Balls were shot on this side of the battlefield that it was estimated 1/5 of the ammunition was used. Yet this battle has largely been forgotten by it's more dramatic cousin, Little Round Top. Every account I have read about it makes it clear that it was essential to be held.

For me I was painting something about the tension (using color) with a a sense of fear. It has a peaceful, soft sense to it and that was deliberate as well. It is hard to push through things like battles and deaths. I am getting a personal sense of what this war means to me over 150 years after the battle. Me. A white woman living in Texas.

As I struggle through the truths of coming from a slave-holding family I wrestle with how that affected lives that are nameless and yet were human beings. Perhaps I should feel guilty. Maybe that guilt will always be there (and I learn to live in the tension of it and not try to erase it). But instead accept where I came from and choose to see the story that is true. Asking in my prayers, "What do I do now?"

And so I paint.

I find that every time I go to paint there is a tension. I get to the work of it and looking back there is a softness and peace. I asked a friend the other day, "Why should I paint peace over something so horrible?" As we talked I came to a realization that I find hand holds in battles of courage and in doing the right things even when it seems impossible to win. Culps Hill reminds me of that. 

I see those same hand holds of hope in the women who went to the aid of the wounded in the war. They didn't run from the dying and maimed they went towards the horror and helped. Women like Clara Barton. I see that hope in the words of Lincoln when I read him. It gives me peace to read that love showed up in the most horrible times along with courage and goodness. Maybe because I need reminding that I can do better than my ancestors did. I can make choices to love people and to have the courage to face the darkness of our time and the darkness of our past.

In all things there is a God who loves and was holding things in His good hand for justice and rightness to be unleashed. I've sensed that with Culps Hill as I read about it. Unlikely odds and yet, even at night, it was held.

Thursday, March 15, 2018