"Douglass" 12x9, Oil on Gessobord
I chose to depict Frederick Douglass as a tree overlooking the Chesapeake. In his book, "Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass" he describes a very moving image (that many reader never forgets):
"...I have often, in the deep stillness of a summer's Sabbath, stood all alone upon the lofty banks of that noble bay, and traced, with saddened heart and tearful eye, the countless number of sails moving off to the mighty ocean. The sight of these always affected me powerfully. My thoughts would compel utterance; and there, with no audience but the Almighty, I would pour out my soul's complaint...'You are loosed from your moorings and are free; I am fast in my chains and am a slave!...I am left in the hottest hell of unending slavery. O God, save me! God, deliver me! Let me be free!...'"
I thought about how the Atlantic brought the slave ships over its waters to the American shores. I wanted to depict the great tree against those waves and currents that were always moving (unknown). Douglass did so much in his life. In a more modern time he should have been our President. He was not only a brilliant man but spoke so eloquently that crowds were moved to tears. He stood in that long line of men and women who broke hearts for Justice.
"Grant" 12x9, Oil on Gessobord
I would highly recommend that you read, "Grant" by Ron Chernow to get a complete history of this extraordinary man. He comes from a very humble background (with abolitionist parents). He rises to become one of the greatest men in American history. He symbolizes the Union more than any other man (even Lincoln).
“Walt Whitman, who ardently followed the Overland Campaign: “When did [Grant] ever turn back? He was not that sort; he could no more turn back than time! . . . Grant was one of the inevitable's; he always arrived; he was invincible as a law: he never bragged—often seemed about to be defeated when he was in fact on the eve of a tremendous victory.”
His dogged determination would inspire his men even in the heaviest of casualties. He would be called a "butcher" even as he knew the price of victory with an enemy who would not surrender. He dealt with alcoholism most of his life (until after the war). He did more during his presidency to see that African Americans were treated fairly and that the Klan was put down in the South. He was easily trusting and was cheated later in life out of his life savings. He took it upon himself to write his own memoirs of the war. It is still considered one of the greatest narratives every written on the war (Mark Twain published it). He was writing up until his death (he had very painful throat cancer) and managed to finish it completely.
I chose to depict him as a strong tree with this beautiful sunrise as he saw the Union paid by the blood of over 360,000 Northern soldiers. Their sacrifice in red.
"Lee" 12x9, Oil on Gessobord
It is hard to talk about the Civil War and not talk about Robert E. Lee. He stands as perhaps the most controversial figure of the war. He graduated 2nd in his class of West Point in 1829. He had no demerits during his four years and was seen as a model by other students. His brilliance would lay in tactics, aggression and engineering. When he came out from behind the desk during the Civil War (Joseph Johnston was wounded at the Battle of Seven Pines) he was called, "Granny Lee" because of his gray hair and the "King of Spades" because of his excessive building of trenches. What would be discovered was a man of exceeding brilliance when it came to military maneuvers. It was said that he could get into the mind of any opposing General and could know what they would do.
He would become, over time, the depiction of the ideal Southern Gentleman and "model Christian." He represents, for some Southerners, the Confederacy at its best. When you really look into his life you see more of a man with faults than you do the "marble man" that is mostly heralded by the South. He comes from a childhood that is haunted by an absent father ("Lighthorse" Harry Lee) who gambles the Lee fortune away and dies when Lee is 11. Robert grows up learning that he must overcome his Father's reputation. We see from any battle with Lee that it is these particular battles that have the heaviest casualties. Although Grant is depicted as the "butcher" Lee is the brilliant Commander. They both lose more men than any other commanding General in the war (including Sherman).
Lee's greatest tragedy is his choosing of the Confederacy over the Union. He has sworn an oath of allegiance to America (as a military officer) yet he says he cannot take up arms against his native Virginia. He comes from Virginia aristocracy (and a British way of thinking of names and land). He does not believe that the African Americans are equals (although he does free his Father in law's slaves during the war). He remains controversial because of his stance and his personal integrity. It would be easy to dismiss Robert E. Lee if he was a man of loose morals or deeply cruel. What we are left with is not a "marble man" as most statues of Lee would have us believe. But instead, a man that no one could completely pin down.
I chose to paint Lee like a vapor or cloud. He comes like a gray storm, blinded by loyalty to his family and state. Tragic, heavy with duty and moving in the wrong direction.