Wednesday, September 7, 2016

Protecting the Newcomers - Fort Knox, Maine 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 Knox, Maine

Fort Knox, Maine

Maine was repeatedly involved in northeast border disputes with British Canada, and the area between Castine and the rich lumber city of Bangor was invaded and occupied by the British during the American Revolution and the War of 1812. Despite the Webster-Ashburton Treaty of 1842, which adjusted the boundary to avert the possibility of war, Fort Knox was established in 1844 to protect the Penobscot River valley against a possible future British naval incursion. Named for Major General Henry Knox, America’s first secretary of war and a native of Maine, the fort garrisoned troops from 1863 to 1866, and again in 1898, but never saw military action.

As is customary with Seth Eastman, a quiet, subtle skill is at work here. He adjusts his tonal palette to convincingly construct both the situation of the fort and the other objects within the space. The fort–-a complex geometric structure–-is in good repair, yet no human is visible in or on the fort. There is a sense of abandonment reflective of the fort’s history. The sailboat and rowboat, whose occupants are observers of this little-used remnant of the nation’s military past, heighten the mood. Eastman was aware that the fort had little history–-no real story to tell–-and he cleanly and matter-of-factly embeds the granite structure in the Maine landscape.

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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