Friday, October 4, 2013

Creating Dred Scott - part 1

"You need it WHEN?"

I was recently asked by the Minnesota Historical Society to paint pictures of Dred and Harriet Scott, slaves who met, married and lived at Fort Snelling in the 1830’s while their owners were posted there. The Society is creating a series of short documentaries relating to Civil War topics and the Dred Scott Decision of 1857 is one of the powder keg issues leading up to that war.  They were editing together a 6 minute piece on this subject, and needed a pair of images to add "life" to the main characters. 

Period engraving of Dred and Harriet Scott.

The producer wanted to show both Dred and Harriet at work within or close to the walls of the fort, a place near and dear to my heart. My dear wife and I met, married and worked there for more than a decade.  As far as I know, Dred or Harriet Scott have never been painted, and the chance to be “the first” was more than I could pass up.

As usual, there was very little time to pull this off – there never is. I immediately accepted the challenge, despite the fact that I was still finishing a series of picture book illustrations.

I visited my good friends, the historians at Historic Fort Snelling, and we talked for a while about just what the Scotts would have done there on a daily basis, as well as how they may have dressed and what their quarters may have looked like. My camera came in handy, but I realized I would have to modify the recreated quarters to accurately reflect their likely 1830’s appearance. 

 Interior of the recreated quarters at Fort Snelling.

My dear friend Tom "poses" for me in front of the Scott's quarters. The other pop is mine. Really.

 The correct shape for an early to mid 19th century axe head.  This is important.

The following day, I shot photos of myself as both Dred and Harriet, and then drew two compositional sketches based on these.  Time was slipping away and I simply needed warm bodies to quickly establish the most basic information upon which to build a scene.  Details would follow later.

Me, as Dred Scott, holding my nice axe.
You can see the picture book I was trying to finish, taking over my main easel.

Me as Harriet Scott. I didn't even need a dress for this one.  Just some puffy sleeves and a warm body.

Dred Scott sketch.  See how it all comes together, minus Tom and the bench?

Harriet Scott sketch.  In the end, we changed the walls and hearth and lost the printed pattern on the dress - thank goodness, because those patterns add TIME to a painting..

I didn't hear anything back for a crucial week, and was prepared to take on my next project when I received word that the project was a go.  Thankfully these sketches were approved, and the REAL work could begin.

In Part 2, I will continue this process, so check back soon.

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