Sunday, July 22, 2018

First Week in Gettysburg

First Night in Gettysburg
Before I even begin I just want to thank the National Parks, specifically Gettysburg National Military Park, The Gettysburg Foundation who funded this residency and provided the housing for me to stay in at the Park and The National Park Arts Foundation, in particular Tanya Ortega who founded this wonderful non-profit and who personally sees to the artist residencies. She is a national treasure! I will try to share more in the following entries. But please, if you are an Artist reading this look into the NPAF and apply for a residency!
I came to Gettysburg with many questions. Not so much about the battle (although there are many names and specific moments within this ONE great battle broken over three days). I had expected to feel tension and perhaps not a peaceful satisfaction to the questions. I had not expected so much beauty. From the first evening spent in Klingel House the sunsets set off the landscape in dramatic ways.
Klingel Farm and the sunset

This farm was here during the battle. The Klingel's had to flee their land before the fighting broke out. Their piece of land would see Wilcox's Alabama men come through their own farm, yard and even into their kitchen looking for something to eat. Several dead Confederates were found around this house with the meal still cooking in the pot as a shell blew up over them. They died before they could eat. 
I thought about how all the farms on the Battlefield took the brunt of such violence. Yet, here they are (or at least some of them). Sentinels to endurance, community and deep beauty because it is their fields we love to tramp and take pictures in.
The Klingel House sits in the middle of some of the fiercest fighting in the Battle of Gettysburg. Right across from the Peach Orchard and just down from The Wheatfield. The Farm sits between both armies. Right exactly in the middle. From the top window I can see where General Lee sat to watch Pickett's Charge. And from my back door I can see the heights of Cemetery Ridge where General Meade headquartered and the Union Army held the high ground.
In the Morning Sun

During this week I've had the pleasure of getting to go into the Museum and view the video, Cyclorama Painting and Civil War Museum. It took over three hours to do all of it and I think I could still go back. I was pleased to see that the video wasn't just about the battle maneuvers and particular military personnel but about the causes of whys of the Civil War. I was grateful that the Parks have not shied away from these tough discussions and kept the main thing on the table. That, in my opinion, is slavery. I also appreciated seeing the battle more specifically as you walked through the museum. They have this split into the three days and then the end of the War.
Kendrick and I with Ranger Matt Atkinson
I've spent a great deal of time listening to talks on the Civil War before I came. One of the first people I heard about was Matt Atkinson. He is funny, from Mississippi and has a Masters degree in Civil War studies. You just say a word and he has a great story to share about a certain person. He is part of why the National Parks are so special. He carries our living history and shares it back with all of us as Americans. Kendrick and I went to three of his talks. We would leave laughing but struck by something he said that we would think about later.
I also had the privilege of getting a Licensed Battlefield Guide led by Rob Abbott who is part of the Marine Corp and now does Guides for fun. To be a Guide you must take an 8 hour test and then be in the top 20. From the top 20 they take 8 for an oral test and those that pass that get to be a Guide. So this guy knew his stuff!
Painting the Witness Tree at Devils Den
Always start with a little thumbnail sketch
When we weren't going to Ranger talks I would paint outside in the different spots at the Park. This was at Devils  Den.
My day starts around 5:20 a.m. so I can get up with enough time to get ready to go outside for the sunrise. I have not been disappointed yet that I got up early! Two mornings I've had mist and a beautiful golden light that runs through the fields. It is breathtaking in red and orange.
One of Gettysburg Sunsets that are equally great!
Right before the light went out completely.
I've been letting the landscape get into me by walking and walking and yes, more walking. I've seen deer, some sort of large beaver? and mice. I have also seen Living Historians (don't call them reinactors!) bivouacked in the fields and woods (I always wanted to write a sentence with the word bivouacked). If you see them just smile and nod and don't act like your from the Press.
 I started this painting on the location and then put the colors
in when I got back to the studio.
This is my way of "pushing" the feeling of a place. I have finished about three paintings but hope to get more done as I think about it less and go with more of my gut. Another reason why being here a full four weeks is really helpful for the artist.
An unassuming monument right next to the Pennsylvania Monument
 (which is the largest one in the Park) is the1st Minnesota. 
I came across the heroism of the 1st Minnesota in my reading of the Battle of Gettysburg. Some of you might have seen the movie based on the Shaara novel, The Killer Angels. In the movie they highlight the heroism of the 20th Maine and Col. Joshua L. Chamberlain on Little Round Top as his small regiment (most regiments had about 350 men) ran out of ammunition after pushing back several attacks and then bayonet charged Hood's Confederates keeping Little Round Top from Southern hands. I love that story!

 I also read the story of the 1st Minnesota.
This is what the Park Statue says:
"Late on the afternoon of July 2nd, after the collapse of the Union line at the Peach Orchard, Confederate infantry in front (of the sculpture) threatened to pour through a gap in the Union line here (caused by Union General Sickles arrogant blunder in moving out of the position he was ordered to stay in multiple times). When Major General Hancock, commander of the Union 2nd Corp (two to four groups of 10,000 men each) rode up to assess the situation only ONE regiment (262 men) was at hand to stop the Confederate tide. The 1st Minnesota. "My God, are these all the men we have here?" Hancock asked. It was, but they would have to do. "Charge those lines!" Shouted Hancock, and immediately the lone regiment swept down the slope with levelled bayonets, the Minnesota crashed into General Cadmus Wilcox's Alabamians who outnumbered them 4 to 1. The charge broke the Confederate ranks and stalled the Southerners long enough for the Union reinforcements to arrive. The Union line was saved but at a terrific cost. According to regimental officer of the 262 Minnesotans in the charge only 47 escaped death or injury...."
83% casualties. The largest casualties of any regiment in all of Gettysburg. The men knew that they were being asked to give their bodies for time to regroup the Union Army so they wouldn't be rolled up by Longstreet's wheel on the 2nd day. The Park statue says, "This charge has no parallel in any war."
There are the remains of the soldiers they could identify after the battle.
The Stone reads, "52 Bodies."
I wrote in my journal, "I cried at the 1st Minnesota today. They gave their lives to save the Union. What courage. No hesitation."
It struck me how the markers read, "52 Bodies." We do everything through our bodies. our birth, our life, our death. These maimed bodies were given a proper place to rest. To be entombed and kept bodily. There is something fitting and right in the way we bury our dead. In how we treat our bodies and each others' bodies. I see this so clearly on this battlefield. For one set of men there is honor and care. Almost tenderness. On the other is deep anger and disregard for their personal bodies. I'm not trying to make a judgment here. I'm just writing how the outcome was played out in the bodies of young men on both sides and then later in how those bodies or body parts were kept or laid bare. This war has nothing "easy" to convey about our humanity. Full of emotion and heroism and such hatred and anger too.

The tension of pain is pulled by beauty. I'm pulled at the same time by both. The landscape holds it, and me and these dead.

Thursday, June 28, 2018

"New Glory" 16x72, Oil on Canvas

"New Glory" 16x72, Oil on Canvas

This is the last piece for the upcoming show at the Nave Museum scheduled August 30 - End of September. I am so very excited to be doing a two woman show with Mary Tomas a beautiful landscape expressionist who is able to pull the viewer into nature through her color and nuance. Our show is called, "Ethereal Dialogue." Opening reception is August 30th. Curated by Dr. Jill Fox.

I will be sharing all new works having to do with nature and some pieces of landscape symbolism inspired the Civil War.

The Nave Museum

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.