Sunday, September 11, 2016

Protecting the Newcomers - Fort Delaware, Delaware by Seth Eastman 1808-1875

During the late 18C & through much of the 19C, army forts were constructed throughout the United States to defend the growing nation from a variety of threats, both perceived & real, both external & internal. Internal threats included those from the Native Americans who had been on the land for enons. 

Seth Eastman (American artist, 1808-1875) Fort Delaware, Delaware

Fort Delaware

The low block of this large fort is poised between sky and water, its tranquil reflection contributing to the pleasantly calm effect of Seth Eastman’s depiction. The sky is filled with gently animated clouds, and a sure handling of the space, from the darker, skillfully detailed foreground to the light-filled distance, marks the whole painting.

Fort Delaware was built on Pea Patch Island in the Delaware River, below Wilmington and New Castle, Delaware. The first fortification on the island was constructed soon after the War of 1812 to protect Philadelphia and its harbor as well as the dynamite and munitions plants near Wilmington. It was demolished in 1833. The present structure was erected between 1848 and 1859, becoming the largest fort in the country. During the Civil War, beginning in 1862, the island became a prison for captured Confederates and local Southern sympathizers. They were housed not in the fort proper but in wooden barracks that soon covered much of the island. Most of the Confederates captured at Gettysburg were imprisoned there. By August 1863, there were 12,500 prisoners on the island; by war’s end, it had held some 40,000 men. The conditions were predictably notorious, and about 2,900 prisoners died at Fort Delaware. Although the benign appearance of the postwar fort in Eastman’s painting might have seemed ironic to late 19th-century viewers, it is also true that Delaware’s guns never fired a shot during its entire history.

From the office of the United States  curatorwe learn that in 1870, the House Committee on Military Affairs commissioned artist Seth Eastman 17 to paint images of important fortifications in the United States. He completed the works between 1870 & amp; 1875. 

Born in 1808 in Brunswick, Maine, Eastman found expression for his artistic skills in a military career. After graduating from the US Military Academy at West Point, where officers-in-training were taught basic drawing & amp; drafting techniques, Eastman was posted to forts in Wisconsin & amp; Minnesota before returning to West Point as assistant teacher of drawing. 

While at Fort Snelling, Eastman married Wakaninajinwin (Stands Sacred), the 15-year-old daughter of Cloud Man, Dakota chief. Eastman left in 1832 for another military assignment soon after the birth of Their baby girl, Winona, & declared His marriage ended When He left. Winona was also known as Mary Nancy Eastman & was the mother of Charles Alexander Eastman, author of Indian Boyhood.

From 1833 to 1840, Eastman taught drawing at West Point. In 1835, he married his 2nd wife & was reassigned to Fort Snelling as a military commander & remained there with Mary & their 5 children for the next 7 years. During this time Eastman began recording the everyday way of life of the Dakota & the Ojibwa people. Eastman established himself as an accomplished landscape painter. Between 1836 & amp; 1840, 17 of his oils were exhibited at the National Academy of Design in New York City. 

Transferred to posts in Florida, & amp; Texas in the 1840s, Eastman became interesed in the Native Americans & made sketches of the people. This experience prepared him for the next 5 yeas in Washington, DC, where he was assigned to the commissioner of Indian Affairs & illustrated Henry Rowe Schoolcraft's important 6-volume Historical & amp; Statistical Information Respecting the History, Condition, & Prospects of the Indian Tribes of the United States. 

In 1867 Eastman returned to the Capitol, this time to paint a series of scenes of Native American life for the House Committee on Indian Affairs. Of his 17 paintings of forts, 8 are located in the Senate, while the others are displayed on the House side of the Capitol. Eastman was working on the painting West Point when he died in 1875.

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