54 years ago today, Ruby Bridges went to school

November 14, 2014

American Experience reminds us:

On November 14, 1960, 6-year-old Ruby Bridges walked into William J. Frantz Elementary School in New Orleans.

It was just last September 8 we wished Ms. Bridges a happy 60th birthday.  What follows it the post I put up then, happy to have an excuse to repeat historic photos, great art from a great American painter, and remind students of history.  September’s post follows.

You don’t recognize her there?

How about in Norman Rockwell’s illustration?

“The Problem We All Live With,” Norman Rockwell, 1964; oil on canvas, Norman Rockwell Museum, Stockbridge, Massachusetts

Ruby Bridges with President Barack Obama, in 2011:

President Obama and Ruby Bridges viewing Normal Rockwall's painting, "The Problem We All Live With," at the White House in 2011. Photo by Pete Souza, public domain.

President Obama and Ruby Bridges viewing Normal Rockwall’s painting, “The Problem We All Live With,” at the White House in 2011. Photo by Pete Souza, public domain.

Ms. Bridges tells some of her story:


Voting in Fort Worth? Drop into the Amon Carter, see how campaigns worked in 1844

November 4, 2014

Election day art — well, this is campaign art, but part of that American tradition of highlighting the public nature of elections and campaigns.

Caption from the Dallas Morning News:  James Henry Beard’s The Illustrious Guest, depicting Henry Clay on the campaign trail in 1844, is on loan to the Amon Carter Museum of American Art.

Caption from the Dallas Morning News: James Henry Beard’s The Illustrious Guest, depicting Henry Clay on the campaign trail in 1844, is on loan to the Amon Carter Museum of American Art.

Yes, there’s Henry Clay — maybe the man most-expected to become president who never did.  No, your high school history class probably didn’t cover Clay well, and most don’t today, either.  Advanced Placement and International Baccalaureate classes may give him part of what he is due.

But there he is, campaigning in 1844, out on the road.  Actually, he’s at the hotel, reading a newspaper — and everyone else stares.  Some people bring their children to see the
Great Clay.

It was Clay’s third run at the presidency, at to be his last.  He ran on the Whig Party ticket, a party that would crash and burn within the decade, sinking from electoral politics forever.  (Millard Fillmore would be last Whig President, ascending from the vice presidency on the death of Zachary Taylor; Taylor was the last elected Whig President.) Clay was amply qualified on paper, and in the minds of most people, to be president.

Henry Clay, Sr. (April 12, 1777 – June 29, 1852) was an American lawyer, politician, and skilled orator who represented Kentucky in both the United States Senate and House of Representatives. He served three different terms as Speaker of the House of Representatives and was also Secretary of State from 1825 to 1829. He lost his campaigns for president in 1824, 1832 and 1844.

In 1824, he ran behind Andrew Jackson and John Quincy Adams. In what Jackson later called the Corrupt Bargain, when no candidate got a majority in the electoral college, and the election went to the House of Representatives (where each state gets one vote!), Clay pulled out, and let it be known that he favored Adams, who had run behind Jackson.  Adams was elected, and appointed Clay to be Secretary of State, the most common stepping stone to the presidency. (Was there a deal cut between Adams and Clay? No evidence can ever quash the suspicions of Jackson and his supporters.)

In 1832, older, wiser, from the Senate and as founder of the Whig Party, Clay ran and lost to Jackson, who won his second term.

In 1844 Clay was 67 years old.  The presidency was open.  Clay sought to walk the fence between groups who favored abolishing slavery, and groups who insisted slavery was necessary for the economy.  He opposed annexing new lands to the U.S., in order to preserve the balance between slave and non-slave states in Congress, especially the Senate.  James K. Polk, a young protege of Andrew Jackson, was chiefly unknown.  But Polk endorsed the idea of the nation’s “manifest destiny,” meaning he supporting annexing lands, sorting out slave/non-slave issues later.  Polk didn’t talk about his views on slavery in territories, and that was enough to mollify anti-slave forces in the party; but Polk was a slave holder, and that encouraged partisans on the other side to believe he’d favor them.  Polk won 49.5% of the popular vote, Clay 48.1%; Clay captured 170 electoral votes when 138 were needed to win.

Clay was, no doubt, more hopeful at the time the painting conveys.

Notice Clay seems to travel alone.  There is not gaggle of reporters, no clutch of campaign aides.  There is no one to fetch the great man a newspaper so he can remain cloistered in his hotel room. It was, in all ways, a much different time.  Voting in the election itself ran for a month, from early November to early December.  How that would have frustrated the television networks!

The painting, on loan to and on display in Fort Worth’s Amon Carter Museum, came to light due to an owner’s bringing it to the Antiques Road Show of PBS, in 2008.  Amon Carter’s curators, always alert to American art and art of the west, worked to get it on display.  That story is told nicely by University of Texas at Dallas art historian Rick Brettell in the Dallas Morning News.

The painting represents the well-dressed — note the red silk living of his top coat — Sen. Henry Clay from Kentucky in the middle of a common tavern during his final run for office. He is at a stop on the campaign trail — his luggage is piled up on the right — and is catching up on the news in front of a stove. The tavern itself is respectable, and one small child, representing the future, looks intently at Clay, while two women and another child peep in curiously from the door. The entire painting projects an air of democratic common sense.

The painting actually focuses on the class differences between Clay and his constituents and represents the great politician as being out of touch with “the American people” — lost in his paper. Clay was a member of the American party that was dominant in the early 19th century and was called the Democratic-Republican Party. He had become a Whig long before the 1844 election, which he lost to James Polk.

With his beautiful clothes and his disdain for those around him, he is as out of touch as many of today’s politicians with their wealthy backers and super-PACS. What we learn from this trenchant analysis of 19th-century politics is that history does repeat itself. Interestingly, Clay, as a slave owner, opposed the annexation of Texas to the republic, a major issue in the election of 1844, for fear that it would exacerbate the debate about slavery then raging in America. How right he was.

Had Clay won instead, would Texas be a part of the U.S. today? Something to ponder on election day 2014 — or to visit, if you’re voting in Fort Worth.

More:


Election day art of Norman Rockwell, and the unpredictability of elections

November 4, 2014

Can’t let election day go by without at least noting this great, undersung painting by Normal Rockwell, “Election Day (1944)”:

Norman Rockwell, Election Day, 1944, watercolor and gouache, 14 x 33 1/2 in., Museum purchase, Save-the-Art fund, 2007.037.1.

Norman Rockwell, Election Day, 1944, watercolor and gouache, 14 x 33 1/2 in., Museum purchase, Save-the-Art fund, 2007.037.1.

Remember when people used to dress up to go to the polls?

In 1944 President Franklin Roosevelt ran for an unprecedented fourth term.  Most Americans did not know it, but he was deathly ill at the time.  He dropped Vice President Henry Wallace from his ticket — some argue it was a mutual disaffection at that time — and selected the relatively unknown young Missouri U.S. Sen. Harry S Truman for the vice president’s slot.

In November 1944, D-Day was known to be a successful invasion, and most Americans hoped for a relatively speedy end to World War II in both Europe and the Pacific.  Within the next ten months, the nation would endure the last, futile, desperate and deadly gasp of the Third Reich in the Battle of the Bulge, the liberation of Berlin in April 1945, and end of the war in the European Theatre on May 8; the Battle of Leyte Gulf, the Philippines Campaign, and the bloody, crippling battles of Iwo Jima and Okinawa in the Pacific Theatre, and then the first use of atomic weapons in war, at Hiroshima and Nagasaki (and we hope, the last use).

Voters in Cedar Rapids could not have known that.  They did not know that, regardless their vote for FDR or his Republican challenger, New York Gov. Thomas Dewey, Harry S Truman would be president within six months, nor that the entire world would change in August 1945.

This painting captures a time of spectacular moment, great naivity, and it pictures the way history got made.

For a 2007 exhibition, the Cedar Rapids Museum of Art offered this history:

Norman Rockwell: Fact & Fiction

September 12, 2009 – January 3, 2010

In 2007, the citizens of Cedar Rapids rallied together to purchase a series of watercolors destined for the auction block in New York. These five watercolors, by acclaimed 20th century American artist Norman Rockwell, depicted scenes associated with an election day and were created specifically for the November 4, 1944 issue of the Saturday Evening Post. To complete the Post commission, Rockwell traveled to a quintessential Midwestern town, Cedar Rapids, to study local citizens as models for his series of images.

In the 65 years since his visit, numerous anecdotes and stories have arisen about the artist’s time in Cedar Rapids and the creation of this work. This exhibition uses these five, newly conserved and restored watercolors and a related oil painting from the Norman Rockwell Museum, along with numerous photographs taken by local photographer Wes Panek for Rockwell, to investigate the many facts and fictions associated with Rockwell’s visit and this set of watercolors.

Norman Rockwell: Fact & Fiction has been made possible in part by Rockwell Collins, Candace Wong, and local “Friends of Norman Rockwell.” General exhibition and educational support has been provided by The Momentum Fund of the Greater Cedar Rapids Community Foundation.

Friends of Norman Rockwell: Wilma E. Shadle, Howard and Mary Ann Kucera, Jean Imoehl, Ben and Katie Blackstock, Marilyn Sippy, Chuck and Mary Ann Peters, Phyllis Barber, Ann Pickford, Anthony and Jo Satariano, Barbara A. Bloomhall, Virginia C. Rystrom, Jeff and Glenda Dixon, Robert F. & Janis L. Kazimour Charitable Lead Annuity Trust, Fred and Mary Horn, Mrs. Edna Lingo, John and Diana Robeson, Jewel M. Plumb, Carolyn Pigott Rosberg, Mr. and Mrs. Robert J. Buchacek, Dan and Anne Pelc, Mary Brunkhorst, and John and Diana Robeson.

I am amused and intrigued that this scene also closely resembles the scene when I voted in Cheverly, Maryland, in 1984 — down to the dog in the picture.  Oh, and most of the women didn’t wear dresses, none wore hats, and I was the only guy in the room with a tie.

Roosevelt won the 1944 election in an electoral college landslide, 432 to 99, but Dewey won Iowa, and we might assume Dewey won Cedar Rapids, too.

And that Truman guy?  Rockwell came back to the topic of elections four years later, when Truman was running for election to the office he’d filled for nearly four years, with another classic, American election portrayal.

“Election Day,” by Norman Rockwell, 1948

More:

 

Yes, this is an encore post.

Yes, this is mostly an encore post.


Election Day 2014: Fly your flag, and VOTE!

November 4, 2014

Saint Louis Art Museum, St. Louis, Missouri George Caleb Bingham (American, 1811–1879). The County Election, 1852. Oil on canvas. 38 x 52 in. (96.5 x 132.1 cm). Gift of Bank of America.

The County Election, 1852. Saint Louis Art Museum, St. Louis, Missouri George Caleb Bingham (American, 1811–1879).  Oil on canvas. 38 x 52 in. (96.5 x 132.1 cm). Gift of Bank of America.

Every polling place should be flying the U.S. flag today.  You may fly yours, too.  In any case, if you have not voted already, go vote today as if our future depends upon it, as if our nation expects every voter to do her or his duty.

Today the nation and world listen to the most humble of citizens.  Speak up, at the ballot box.

Did you notice?  In George Caleb Bingham’s picture, there are no U.S. flags.  You may fly yours anyway.

The whole world is watching.

More:

Yes, this is an encore post.

Yes, this is an encore post. I really like Bingham’s painting.


227 years ago today, in this room

September 17, 2014

Independence Hall, Philadelphia; room where the Constitution was created and signed; Dept of Interior photo

Caption from Department of Interior’s Tumblr site: 225 years ago today, the Constitution of the United States was signed in Independence Hall. Today, you can tour the Hall and see where the Declaration of Independence and Constitution were both signed, and you can also view the Liberty Bell [close by]. This is a site not to miss while visiting Philadelphia.
Photo: National Park Service

Does this room look a little familiar?  You’ve probably seen Howard Chandler Christy’s painting of the event we celebrate today.

Howard Chandler Christy’s “Signing of the Constitution,” 1940

Howard Chandler Christy’s “Signing of the Constitution,” 1940; Architect of the Capitol image. This massive, 20′ x 30′ painting hangs in the House Wing of the U.S. Capitol, in the east stairway — a location where, alas, most people cannot get to without a guide anymore.

Click to the Architect of the Capitol’s site for the story of the painting, intended by Congress to fill a gap in the story of America told by art in the Rotunda and throughout the halls of the building.

Dr. Gordon Lloyd, Pepperdine University, creator of the interactive

Dr. Gordon Lloyd, Pepperdine University’s School of Public Policy, and expert in the Constitution and its history.  I met Lloyd almost a decade ago, in programs for history teachers, sponsored by the Bill of Rights Institute, Liberty Fund, and National Endowment for the Humanities.

My old friend Dr. Gordon Lloyd of Pepperdine University, working with the Ashbrook Center for Public Affairs, created a study tool from the Christy painting which should be used a lot more in classrooms.  Click over to the Edsitement site, and see for yourself.

Every year there are a few more tools on the internet to study the Constitution with, for teachers to use in the classroom on Constitution Day and every day.  I wonder what will be the effects in another decade.

How important is it that students learn the Constitution, what it says, and how it affects our daily lives?  How important is it that students learn the history of the creation of the Constitution, and does that history reverberate for those students as they venture out into their roles as citizens in the republic created by the document?

More:

This is an encore post.

This is an edited encore post.


Star-spangled Banner’s 200th – with the Steep Canyon Rangers (again)

September 14, 2014

Now everybody’s celebrating.  Time for a quick reprise of this post from June.

Published on Jun 19, 2014

Grammy Award winning bluegrass band the Steep Canyon Rangers, well known for their work with Steve Martin, perform a special version of “The Star-Spangled Banner” for the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History in honor of the song’s 200th anniversary.

The museum will “Raise It Up!” and celebrate the 200th anniversary by uniting the original manuscript with the flag at the Museum from June 14-July 6, 2014 and holding a special event at the museum on Flag Day (Saturday, June 14, 2014). Join the party: http://anthemforamerica.smithsonian.com/

Special thanks to the team at Wool and Tusk for their hard work and creativity: Scott Mele, Roger Pistole, Derek West, Joe Pisapia, David Bartin, Michael Freeman, Alexis Kaback, Daniel Walker, Jeff Rosen, Harvey Moltz, and Greg and Erin Whiteley.

More:

The flag that flew over Fort McHenry at the Battle of Baltimore, 1814. Smithsonian image.

The flag that flew over Fort McHenry at the Battle of Baltimore, 1814. Smithsonian image.

This is an encore post.

This is an encore post.


Civil rights icon Ruby Bridges, 60 today

September 8, 2014

Happy birthday, Ruby Bridges!

You don’t recognize her there?

How about in Norman Rockwell’s illustration?

“The Problem We All Live With,” Norman Rockwell, 1964; oil on canvas, Norman Rockwell Museum, Stockbridge, Massachusetts

Ruby Bridges with President Barack Obama, in 2011:

President Obama and Ruby Bridges viewing Normal Rockwall's painting, "The Problem We All Live With," at the White House in 2011. Photo by Pete Souza, public domain.

President Obama and Ruby Bridges viewing Normal Rockwall’s painting, “The Problem We All Live With,” at the White House in 2011. Photo by Pete Souza, public domain.

Ms. Bridges tells some of her story:


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