Sebastian here, we had a great fundraising event at Skip and Glenda Brion’s house, Dad made a gallery on Facebook with some choice pictures and comments that you can find here. For my part I’m going to talk a little bit about my experience of the event, as a follow up to this post I did while we were still in the planning phases. All of that combined fundraising and planning experience came together beautifully, and the set up right before the party was smooth. Part of me was expecting a panicked last minute gathering of items and set up of goods (which certainly would have happened if I was in charge of organizing) but instead everyone showed up with the right stuff, on time, and set it out with minimal issues. I can say with confidence that the team of Glenda and Skip Brion, Marcie and Rob Fenza, Val and Craig Jester, Darcie and Larry Goldberg, the Martinez family, and CCHS worked like a well-oiled machine!
I’ve talked a little bit about Baldwin (born March 29, 1779) before in the context of another botanist in this show William Darlingon. We know that Baldwin died young of tuberculosis (a disease that was thought to be genetic at the time – and both of his parents had it) and also that he had a love of botany, inspired by his relationship with Moses Marshall. Baldwin himself is an interesting case, as he followed a different kind of botanical mold than Darlington or the Marshalls. Though he was a medical doctor like Moses and Darlington, his main focus was on scientific botany, and he was more of a specialist focusing on the sedge family of plants (Cyperaceae). Baldwin’s relationship with Darlington started with them going to the University of Pennsylvania together and was important and very touching when Darlington got sick and started missing classes. Baldwin was the only one who took serious notice and he helped nurse his friend back to health. Sadly, it was Baldwin’s health that turned out to be a problem and he died while serving as the botanist on an ill-fated expedition to explore the Missouri River. Though he died at only 40 years old, his botanical papers, notes, collections, and letters would live on thanks to the efforts of Darlington and other major botanists of the time like John Torrey and Asa Gray. Baldwin’s picture below is not my work, but a drawing from the time period that gets across some of his gentle intelligence.
I always talk about how my paintings change overtime, but sometimes those changes can happen a long time after I ‘finish’ the work. It’s very important to know when to stop on a painting, but oil paintings are always able to be edited and changed. The edit I made today was taking out what was a major element of my Susanna Wright and Deborah Norris Logan painting, the skull in the center of the table. The composition of the painting was like a wagon wheel, with the skull serving as the hub. The skull was also making a strong statement by itself and could be seen as what renaissance artist called a ‘memento mori’ or ‘reminder of death’ a object like a skull that served as a reminder of the importance of the afterlife. While touching up the painting I thought that the skull was a little bit too prominent due to its position, so I started darkening it. While doing that it occurred to me that the skull and its message was not necessary to the rest of the work – so I removed it! I’m quite pleased with the result, as it brings a lot more visual focus to Susanna and Deborah and frees up the general atmosphere.
I’ve gotten much farther along on my new painting and I’ve devised a new setup to help me with my drawing. I’ve closed all the windows and covered the doorways with cloth to keep all of the light out. Normally I enjoy working with natural light, but when I’m doing my drawing I find that the light changing due to the sun and clouds moving seems distracting. I think this is because my preliminary drawings use a very different part of my brain than painting does. I’ve mentioned before that I do drawings that are more detailed than they need to be, and they’re often more detailed than I actually end up painting.
If you look at my drawing of the telescope you’ll see that a lot of little details that won’t be present in any other stage of the work. Those little screws will almost certainly be painted over and omitted. So why do I do this? It’s a little hard to explain, but by drawing an object completely and analytically, almost mathematically – I understand it and I am able to visualize what the final work could look like. I can move the object around in my head, and see what it would look like elsewhere in the composition. The moving and changing doesn’t stop once I finish the drawing of course, but the way I look at the painting does change character.
As a small bonus, here is some of the redecorating I’ve done to keep my studio space nicely dark and quiet.
I’m finally at the point where I’ve put graphite on canvas and the new painting is starting. As you can see this is the very start of the painting, at this point I’ve only been working on it for an hour or two! This one is going to be the near life-sized portrait of Humphry Marshall, in his study with his microscope. The microscope being Humphry’s actual microscope, which is in the collection of the CCHS and will be present at the exhibit.
Thankfully I’ve got all the panels I’ll need to the beginning of the show built and ready, here you can see Sebastian vacuuming the structure in preparation for us to stretch the canvas (if the canvas gets stretched over dirt or sawdust it will create very noticeable marks and bumps on the work so having a clean surface is very important).
We don’t have any photos of the stretching itself, as it’s a difficult two person job with paintings this large, but it involved us pulling on and staple-gunning down the canvas until it was taut and smooth.
Lastly, here I am with the completed results of our efforts, putting primer on so they will be ready to work when I need them.
With the canvas building rolling along smoothly I’m very close to having new surfaces to paint on. However, that’s only the first part of the raw materials needed to make some new paintings. The other important part is pictures of my models! To that end my son and I spent a day last week with David Culp and Michael Alderfer at their wonderful garden, and I took a number of pictures. I dressed them up in some period clothing, generously donated by Downingtown Quaker Meeting. Over the course of the day I took pictures for several potential paintings, the most unusual set of pictures was of the Marshalls conferring with a young William Darlington over a native trillium.
From left to right is Michael as Moses, Sebastian as Darlington, and David as Humphry. You might notice that Sebastian is wearing a rather strange outfit, we didn’t have any 19th century costumes on hand, so I had to improvise. He’s wearing a normal suit and shirt with popped collars and a bunched up tie, to emulate the fashion of Darlington’s time. Darlington (who you can read about here) was a man of the 19th century, and they had a very different sense of fashion compared to the 18th century the Marshalls belonged to. As you can see in this actual portrait of Darlington high collars were in and wigs were out. I’ll have to add in the vest myself, and I’ll probably end up taking David and Michael’s hats off while lengthening their hair. After all, what would a painting be without a little improvisation?