Saturday, September 17, 2016

Protecting the Newcomers - Fort Taylor, Florida 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 Taylor, Florida

Fort Taylor, Florida

The federal government broke ground on Fort Zachary Taylor in 1845, the same year that Florida became a state. Progress was extremely slow because of the remote location at Key West harbor and the tropical climate. The former made obtaining building materials difficult, and the latter brought yellow fever and hurricanes. Although its completion was thus delayed until 1866, the fort nonetheless played a significant part during the Civil War by intercepting blockade-running ships. It may have been this role, as well as Fort Taylor’s physical setting, that inspired Eastman’s unusually expressive painting.

This is one of the more striking paintings in the series because of the ambitious and dramatic atmosphere. The fort is solid and inert, its flag positioned in the exact center of the image. The sky is a mauve-gray concoction with darker cloud trails at the top. The water is windblown and dynamic, swirling around the foreground buoys and composed in a counterpoint of movement with the sky. The huge fort is suspended between sky and water, slightly left of center, with carefully drawn sailing vessels balancing the picture to the right. Only a small portion of land is visible on the left.

From the office of the United States Senate curator we 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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