Friday, September 9, 2016

Protecting the Newcomers - Fort Trumbull, Connecticut 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 Trumbull, Connecticut

Fort Trumbull, Connecticut

In 1775 Governor Jonathan Trumbull recommended the building of a fortification at the port of New London to protect the seat of the government of Connecticut. Built on a rocky point of land near the mouth of the Thames River on Long Island Sound, the fort was completed in 1777 and named for Governor Trumbull, who served from 1769 to 1784. In 1781 during the Revolutionary War, the fort was attacked and captured by British forces under the command of Benedict Arnold. In the early 19th century, the fort was redesigned and rebuilt to meet changing military needs. The present fortification was built between 1839 and 1852 as a five-sided, four-bastion coastal defense fort. During the Civil War, Fort Trumbull served as an organizational center for Union troops and headquarters for the 14th Infantry Regiment. Here, troops were recruited and trained before being sent to war. Today, the fort serves as a public park and tourist attraction.

Seth Eastman imagines a windless day on the river below the fort as the setting for a quiet, pleasant scene. The everyday aspects of this painting–-the boaters and people on the shore–-are, to our eyes, of greater interest than the fort. Many of the carefully detailed figures (10 in all) seem to be regarding the fort, and the viewer’s attention is held in this foreground area by the keenly observed, finely painted rocks and water grasses. The apparently abandoned fort seems clearly a thing of the past, now merely part of the pastoral scenery. The lack of military activity is emphasized by a small figure leaning casually against the wall of the fort at the right.

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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