Friday, August 26, 2016

Protecting the Newcomers - Fort Scammel & Fort Georges, 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 Scammel and Fort Gorges, Maine

Fort Scammel and Fort Georges, Maine

Following the War of 1812, the Army Corps of Engineers proposed that a fort be built on Hog Island Ledge, in Casco Bay at the entrance to the harbor at Portland, Maine. Named for the colonial proprietor of Maine, Sir Ferdinando Gorges, it was constructed to support existing forts, including Fort Scammel built on nearby House Island in 1808. Congress, however, did not fund construction of Fort Gorges until 1857. The walls of the fort were begun the next year, and when the Civil War broke out in 1861, work quickly advanced. It was completed in 1865 as the war ended, a granite reminder of what might have been. A modernization plan was begun in 1869, but funding was cut off in 1876, with the third level of the fort still unfinished. Seth Eastman painted his canvas during this final phase.

Eastman gave Fort Scammel and Fort Gorges equal emphasis in his sweeping view. On the distant waters of the bay, the viewer glimpses the activity of sailboats and a steamboat, as well as construction cranes behind both forts. This painting is unusually complex among the works in the series, in both design elements and narrative implications. For example, the large pier at the lower right, its pilings, and the rock and piling at the center are strongly drawn and tightly composed. The pier is animated by 11 figures, standing or seated, who have gathered there. Eastman conveys the specifics of place with attention to the dress and posture of the figures and the structure and age of the pier. The lounging atmosphere, the casual note of the ladder leaning against the small shed at the right, and the motionless boat with inactive occupants at the left all suggest a backwater where time stands still. Again, Eastman seems to compare the foreground idleness with the idleness of the forts and with dreams of battles never fought. The mood is greatly enhanced by the large sky, with a variety of cloud formations tranquilly painted in pale gray tints.

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.