Sunday, July 21, 2013

Changes to "The Charge" - Part 1

A history painting is NEVER done . . .

I've often joked that the moment I declare a history painting "done", and put the last flourishes on my signature in the lower corner, someone will show me a long, lost letter, chock full of juicy, new facts that turn our previous ideas on their collective heads.  This is what we history painters both dread AND desire.

Well . . . it finally happened . . .

On the evening of July 1st, Pat and I unveiled "The Charge" at Gettysburg, in front of a room full of appreciative Minnesotans.  I joked to the crowd that a painting is never done until my wife wrenches the brush and palette out of my hand. I showed them my “Artistic License” (courtesy of Kenspeckle Press), and then went on to remind them that this painting is just MY interpretation, subject to change.

 (photo courtesy of Pioneer Press

On the evening of July 2nd, we spent time with fellow Minnesotans on the battlefield and participated in the rededication of the First Minnesota Regiment Monument on the spot where they initiated their charge, 150 years ago.

 (photo courtesy of Pioneer Photography

That night, my friend, Wayne Jorgenson - a founder of the First Minnesota Reenactment group, author, historian and collector- showed me the transcript of an unpublished letter written by a member of the First Minnesota Regiment who had actually participated in that famous action. This letter suggested that the opposing Minnesotans and Alabamans were farther apart than most accounts presented; that they stood up, without shelter, on opposite sides of Plum Run; and that there was no bayonet combat. 

Keep in mind that this letter was written by a soldier on the left end of the line, so his experience was limited to his narrow perspective.  A common experience amongst combat veterans was to develop tunnel vision - they can generally only recall what happened immediately around them. I feel the safest approach is to incorporate as much as possible from the accounts of all the participants.

SOOOO . . . here we go, kids!

 Change 1

It seems, according to my expert historian friends, that Colonel Colvill and the Regiment's National Colors would have been farther to the right of the line, as opposed to dead center – no pun intended. I fear the reasons for this might bore you to tears, but I like these details.  With the recent dispatch of a company to skirmish with approaching rebels, Colvill may not have had time to reposition the color party to the center of the regiment.  Like Colvill, I also have ordered these men to "Charge Bayonets", and am in the process of pulling their muskets off their shoulders and into a more threatening position.

Changes 2 and 3  

I have pushed BACK two regiments of Alabamans – the First Minnesota fought hard to do this, but I managed to wipe them out in mere minutes with my paintbrush.  Putting them back into their NEW positions will take some time, however.  This change is needed in order to create more space between the opposing sides, to delineate the separate Alabama regiments and to further distinguish them from the scrubby trees and brush along Plum Run.

Historically, these Alabamans were becoming intermingled by this point in the fight, but I need to fudge that fact just a bit to help tell the story. This where my "Artistic License" comes in mighty handy.

Now, where did I put all that gray and butternut paint?

Friday, July 5, 2013

More sketches from the road . . .

As my dear wife and I continued our travels from Maryland to Virginia and then back to Pennsylvania, we found time to break out pencil and paper.

I should clarify something - most of these sketches were finished up in our KOA Kabin or motel room.  Purists may recoil at the idea - so be it.  I don't care how or when the piece is finished, so long as I capture the spirit of the scene.

While on site, I made it a point of nailing down the position of all the features of a landscape, and spent time developing the basic tonal relationships, as well as indicating textures and details. I  reckoned that I could push the values to their extremes later, in the comfort of my nest, and I rarely used my white colored pencil or chalk until that point. For extra emphasis, I occasionally relied on white casein or gouache paint applied with a small brush.

My memory of the scene, the values I had already laid down and what I felt to be important in creating a focal point all guided where the brightest lights and darkest shadows needed to be.  In the future, I may use a little black ink for those deep shadows, and this, combined with the white paint, will give me a complete range of values.

However, there are inherent dangers to sketching on the road.

1. Sometimes, one's water bottle is empty at the worst possible time, and a few drops of a name-brand, carbonated soft drink, heavily laden with caramel coloring, has to be pressed into service as a means of thinning paint and cleaning a brush.

2.  At other times, one will discover that peanut butter on one's fingers WILL leave a greasy blotch on one's paper . . . even in what should otherwise be a pristine, untouched sky.

3.  Car lights, air-conditioning and phone battery-chargers should not be allowed to run down the car's battery while the car's occupants are inside their hermetically sealed bubble, blissfully sketching away.  Luckily, this artist's wife is a master at popping the clutch while this artist and a historic site guide pushed the vehicle down hill.

All right - enough chatting.

 Site of the original, historic Jamestowne, Virginia settlement.

 The original stone wall, sunken road and Innis House on the Fredericksburg, Virginia battlefield.  The beauty of the site belies the horror of what happened just beyond that wall in December of 1862. (Can you tell I had a peanut butter sandwich while drawing this? Can you spot the stain? I sure can.)

 The Gilpin House, Brandywine Battlefield, Pennsylvania.  THIS is where our car battery ran down.  

 Little Round Top, sketched from amidst the rocks of Devil's Den, Gettysburg National Battlefield Park, Pennsylvania.  I left out the hundreds of tourists swarming over the site.

 Another view (see previous post) of the McPherson Barn, scene of heavy fighting on the first day of the Battle of Gettysburg.
A simple sketch taken while we and a few thousand visitors waited for several thousand more visitors to form up in the distance and cross towards us on the site of what is commonly called Pickett's Charge, a key moment that effectively ended the Battle of Gettysburg.

I hope to add more sketches this summer, so check back in.