Get your National Poetry Month posters now!

January 22, 2015

April of each year is National Poetry Month.

A great poster comes from the Academy of American Poets.  Most often I think about the poster on April 1, so it’s rare I get one for the classroom in time (I keep them, and recycle them from year to year.)

New Yorker cartoonist Roz Chast designed the poster for National Poetry Month 2015, and it’s wonderful.

New Yorker cartoonist Roz Chast's design for the poster for National Poetry Month 2015

New Yorker cartoonist Roz Chast’s design for the poster for National Poetry Month 2015

Teachers, and other lovers of poetry, can request a free poster (while supplies last), here.

Sponsors of National Poetry Month 2015:

Sponsors of National Poetry Month 2015

Sponsors of National Poetry Month 2015


Cowboy poetry festival in Elko, Nevada – January 26-31, 2015

January 21, 2015

Poster for the National Cowboy Poetry Gathering in Elko, Nevada, January 26-31, 2015

Poster for the National Cowboy Poetry Gathering in Elko, Nevada, January 26-31, 2015

Probably won’t be a red carpet, but frankly, I’d rather the bottom-feeder TV entertainment news programs would interview cowboys coming in from the dusty trail to recite their saddle-born poetry than interview women in ugly gowns at some Hollywood awards show.

I’d watch to hear the cowboys recite in verse.  Cowboy poetry is probably one of the best-attended entertainment events in heaven, I figure.

Some year I’m going to make it to this festival.  Alas, not this year.

You?

Press release from Western Folklife Center:

 

31st National Cowboy Poetry Gathering Begins January 26

(ELKO, NV)— The 31st National Cowboy Poetry Gathering is January 26-31, in Elko, Nevada. The Elko Gathering is the nation’s oldest and largest annual celebration of the cultural traditions of the ranching and rural West. Every year, thousands travel to this high desert town in the heart of winter, to listen, learn and share. Through poetry, music and stories, ranch people express the beauty, humor, creativity and challenges of a life deeply connected to the earth and its bounty.

At the 31st Gathering, more than 55 poets, musicians and musical groups from the U.S., Canada, Australia and Mexico will perform on seven stages at four different venues. The line-up includes poets Baxter Black, Jerry Brooks, John Dofflemyer, Linda M. Hasselstrom, Yvonne Hollenbeck, Wally McRae, Waddie Mitchell and Paul Zarzyski. Musicians and bands include Gretchen Peters, Tom Russell, Ian Tyson, The Western Flyers, Wylie & The Wild West, Eli Barsi, Cowboy Celtic, Don Edwards, Corb Lund & The Hurtin’ Albertans, Gary McMahan and many more! The Gathering also features hands-on workshops in traditional western arts, exhibitions, western dances, films, discussions, open-mic sessions and more. Tickets to the National Cowboy Poetry Gathering can be purchased at http://www.westernfolklife.org, or by calling 888-880-5885.

The 31st National Cowboy Poetry Gathering will also celebrate a little-known corner of Mexico—Baja California Sur—and its rich ranchero culture. The Gathering will welcome Baja’s vaqueros, who will share with their American cowboy counterparts the traditional acoustic music, ranch cuisine, local art and craftwork, traditional lore and humor of their Californio roots. For nearly 300 years, ranching families have carved out an existence in the rugged, arid environment of the sierra of the lower California (Baja) peninsula. These ranching families are the direct descendents of Spanish missionary soldiers, and continue to maintain their horseback traditions, using riding equipment patterned after the horse gear of their Spanish ancestors. They are a living link between Spain and the American buckaroo.

The 31st National Cowboy Poetry Gathering is produced by the Western Folklife Center and supported by NV Energy, Newmont Mining Corporation, Barrick Gold of North America, Nevada Humanities, Nevada Arts Council, National Endowment for the Arts, Elko Convention and Visitors Authority, the City of Elko and many more foundations, businesses and individuals.

The Western Folklife Center is dedicated to exploring, presenting and preserving the diverse and dynamic cultural heritage of the American West.

31st National Cowboy Poetry Gathering Poets and Musicians

  • Eli Barsi, Moosomin, Saskatchewan, Canada
  • Mike Beck, Monterey, CA
  • Baxter Black, Benson, AZ
  • Dave Bourne, Agoura Hills, CA
  • Jerry Brooks, Sevier, UT
  • Cowboy Celtic, Turner Valley, Alberta, Canada
  • John Dofflemyer, Lemon Cove, CA
  • Elizabeth Ebert, Lemmon, SD
  • Don Edwards, Hico, TX
  • Thatch Elmer, Bear River, WY
  • Dick Gibford, New Cuyuma, CA
  • DW Groethe, Bainville, MT
  • Kenny Hall, Tropic, UT
  • Linda M. Hasselstrom, Hermosa, SD
  • Chuck Hawthorne, Manor, TX
  • Andy Hedges, Lubbock, TX
  • Carol Heuchan, Cooranbong, New South Wales, Australia
  • Brenn Hill, Hooper, UT
  • Yvonne Hollenbeck, Clearfield, SD
  • Ross Knox, Midpines, CA
  • Corb Lund & The Hurtin’ Albertans, Edmonton, Alberta, Canada
  • Deanna Dickinson McCall, Timberon, NM
  • Gary McMahan, Bellvue, CO
  • Wally McRae, Forsyth, MT
  • Doc Mehl, Westminster, CO
  • Augie Meyers, San Antonio, TX
  • Chuck Milner, Reydon, OK
  • Waddie Mitchell, Twin Bridges, NV
  • Andy Nelson, Pinedale, WY
  • Joel Nelson, Alpine, TX
  • Rodney Nelson, Almont, ND
  • Wayne Nelson, American Falls, ID
  • Kay Kelley Nowell, Alpine, TX
  • Glenn Ohrlin, Mountain View, AR
  • Sharon Salisbury O’Toole, Savery, WY
  • Ed Peekeekoot, Crofton, British Columbia, Canada
  • Gretchen Peters & Barry Walsh, Nashville, TN
  • Shadd Piehl, Mandan, ND
  • Vess Quinlan, San Acacio, CO
  • Henry Real Bird, Garryowen, MT
  • Brigid Reedy, Boulder, MT
  • Pat Richardson, Merced, CA
  • Randy Rieman, Dillon, MT
  • Kent Rollins, Hollis, OK
  • Tom Russell, Canutillo, TX
  • Sandy Seaton Sallee, Emigrant, MT
  • Georgie Sicking, Kaycee, WY
  • Sourdough Slim & Robert Armstrong, Paradise, CA
  • Gail Steiger, Prescott, AZ
  • Caitlyn Taussig, Kremmling, CO
  • Charis Thorsell, Burbank, OH
  • Ian Tyson, Longview, Alberta, Canada
  • The Western Flyers, Burleson, TX
  • Wylie & The Wild West, Conrad, MT
  • Paul Zarzyski, Great Falls, MT
Western Folklife Center • 501 Railroad Street • Elko, Nevada • 89801 • 775.738.7508
dminter@westernfolklife.org
www.westernfolklife.org

San Antonio is probably the biggest city represented on that list of performers; most of the others in Texas and Utah (the ones I know best) are small towns, tiny towns.  No tuxedoes or Dior gowns there, I’ll bet.

Wouldn’t it be great if the entire event were streamed, and broadcast, and available on DVD?

Not this year. Western Folklife Center explained on Facebook:

Unfortunately, we will not have a live broadcast of the National Cowboy Poetry Gathering this year. Funding we were hoping to receive did not come through. However, we will be documenting the Gathering in other ways this year, by filming in the G Three Bar Theater and throughout the event. Stay tuned to our website, Facebook page and YouTube channel to see videos of this year’s Gathering as well as all the great videos of past events. We will also be posting lots of great photographs on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram!

You know, if Entertainment Tonight doesn’t have a full crew there in Elko, the world will be much the poorer for it.

More:

One of my all-time favorite poems, “Reincarnation,” performed by its author, Wallace McRae.

National Heritage Fellow Wallace McRae performs his classic poem “Reincarnation” with friend and fellow Montana poet Paul Zarzyski at the 25th National Cowboy Poetry Gathering in Elko, Nevada. (15,083)


January 6: New Mexico flies U.S. flags for Statehood Day

January 6, 2015

President William Howard Taft signing the bill that made New Mexico a state, in 1912. (Other people in the photo, I have not yet identified). Image from OldPicture.com

President William Howard Taft signing the bill that made New Mexico a state, in 1912. (Other people in the photo, I have not yet identified). Image from OldPicture.com

New Mexico became the 47th member of the Union on January 6, 1912.  New Mexicans should fly their U.S. flags today in honor of statehood, the U.S. Flag Code urges.

U.S. and New Mexico flags fly from the state education administration building in Santa Fe, 2014

U.S. and New Mexico flags fly from the state education administration building in Santa Fe, 2014. The third flag is the U.S. POW/MIA flag.

I don’t think Statehood Day is a big deal in New Mexico.  New Mexicans love art, though, and statehood and history of the land and the peoples who live there are celebrated throughout Santa Fe and New Mexico.  The New Mexico Art Museum features a lot about history.

The New Mexico State Capitol is one of the more unique in the U.S. There is no grand dome. Instead, the building is a large, circular structure, a giant kiva, honoring New Mexico’s ancient residents and ancestors.

We toured the Capitol in July. It features a massive collection of art by and about New Mexico, and is worth a stop as one would intend to visit any great art museum.

"Emergence," a representation of the creation of the present Earth and people, by Michael A. Naranjo, 2000. Part of the massive collection of New Mexico Art at the State Capitol -- this one outside the building itself.

“Emergence,” a representation of the creation of the present Earth and people, by Michael A. Naranjo, 2000. Part of the massive collection of New Mexico Art at the State Capitol — this one outside the building itself.

Simple Pleasures of New Mexico, acrylic by Gary Morton, 1992

Simple Pleasures of New Mexico,  stunning painting in acrylic by Gary Morton, 1992

If you’re in Santa Fe, plan to spend a half of a day, at least, looking at the Capitol and its art collections.  There are more than 400 pieces on display, sculpture, paintings, mixed media, and more.  It’s a world class gallery, free for the browsing.  Much of the art packs a powerful emotional punch, too, such as the sculpture outside the building honoring the vanished native tribes of North America.

Happy statehood, New Mexico.

More: 

 

USPS stamp honoring the centennial of New Mexico's statehood, in 2012. The stamp features a representation of the beauty of the state found in its desert hills and mountains.  VirtualStampClub.com

USPS stamp honoring the centennial of New Mexico’s statehood, in 2012. The stamp features a representation of the beauty of the state found in its desert hills and mountains. VirtualStampClub.com

 


Christmas 2014: Do we know who invented Santa Claus? Who really wrote the “Night Before Christmas?”

December 23, 2014

An encore post and Millard Fillmore’s Bathtub tradition from 2007, with a few modifications.

“Today in History from the Associated Press notes, for December 23:

In 1823, the poem “Account of a Visit from St. Nicholas” was published anonymously in the Troy (N.Y.) Sentinel; the verse, more popularly known as “‘Twas the Night Before Christmas,” was later attributed to Clement C. Moore.

Regardless who wrote the poem first published 191 years ago today, how has it influenced America’s view of St. Nicholas, or Santa Claus?  And how much of the Santa Claus story really was invented in America?

Thomas Nast invented Santa Claus? Clement C. Moore didn’t write the famous poem that starts out, “‘Twas the night before Christmas, and all through the house . . . ?”

The murky waters of history from Millard Fillmore’s Bathtub soak even our most cherished ideas and traditions.

Isn’t that part of the fun of history?

Santa Claus delivers to Union soldiers, "Santa Claus in Camp" - Thomas Nast, Harper's Weekly, Jan 3, 1863

In Janaury 1863, Thomas Nast portraye Santa Claus delivered gifts to Union troops in Washington, D.C., wearing a blue, star-spangled coat, just a few days earlier.

Yes, Virginia (and California, too)! Thomas Nast created the image of Santa Claus most of us in the U.S. know today. Perhaps even more significant than his campaign against the graft of Boss Tweed, Nast’s popularization of a fat, jolly elf who delivers good things to people for Christmas makes one of the great stories in commercial illustration. Nast’s cartoons, mostly for the popular news publication Harper’s Weekly, created many of the conventions of modern political cartooning and modeled the way in which an illustrator could campaign for good, with his campaign against the graft of Tammany Hall and Tweed. But Nast’s popular vision of Santa Claus can be said to be the foundation for the modern mercantile flurry around Christmas.

Nast is probably ensconced in a cartoonists’ hall of fame. Perhaps he should be in a business or sales hall of fame, too.  [See also Bill Casselman’s page, “The Man Who Designed Santa Claus.]

Nast’s drawings probably drew some inspiration from the poem, “Account of a Visit from St. Nicholas,” traditionally attributed to Clement C. Moore, a New York City lawyer, published in 1822. The poem is among the earliest to describe the elf dressed in fur, and magically coming down a chimney to leave toys for children; the poem invented the reindeer-pulled sleigh.

Modern analysis suggests the poem was not the work of Moore, and many critics and historians now attribute it to Major Henry Livingston, Jr. (1748-1828) following sleuthing by Vassar College Prof. Don Foster in 2000. Fortunately for us, we do not need to be partisans in such a query to enjoy the poem (a complete copy of which is below the fold).

The Library of Congress still gives Moore the credit. When disputes arise over who wrote about the night before Christmas, is it any wonder more controversial topics produce bigger and louder disputes among historians?

Moore was not known for being a poet. The popular story is that he wrote it on the spur of the moment:

Moore is thought to have composed the tale, now popularly known as “The Night Before Christmas,” on December 24, 1822, while traveling home from Greenwich Village, where he had bought a turkey for his family’s Christmas dinner.

Inspired by the plump, bearded Dutchman who took him by sleigh on his errand through the snow-covered streets of New York City, Moore penned A Visit from St. Nicholas for the amusement of his six children, with whom he shared the poem that evening. His vision of St. Nicholas draws upon Dutch-American and Norwegian traditions of a magical, gift-giving figure who appears at Christmas time, as well as the German legend of a visitor who enters homes through chimneys.

Again from the Library of Congress, we get information that suggests that Moore was a minor celebrity from a well-known family with historical ties that would make a good “connections” exercise in a high school history class, perhaps (”the link from Aaron Burr’s treason to Santa Claus?”): (read more, below the fold)

Clement Moore was born in 1779 into a prominent New York family. His father, Benjamin Moore, president of Columbia University, in his role as Episcopal Bishop of New York participated in the inauguration of George Washington as the nation’s first president. The elder Moore also administered last rites to Alexander Hamilton after he was mortally wounded in a tragic duel with Aaron Burr.

A graduate of Columbia, Clement Moore was a scholar of Hebrew and a professor of Oriental and Greek literature at the General Theological Seminary in Manhattan. [See comment from Pam Bumsted below for more on Moore.] He is said to have been embarrassed by the light-hearted verse, which was made public without his knowledge in December 1823. Moore did not publish it under his name until 1844.

Tonight, American children will be tucked in under their blankets and quilts and read this beloved poem as a last “sugarplum” before slipping into dreamland. Before they drift off, treat them to a message from Santa, recorded by the Thomas Edison Company in 1922.

Santa Claus Hides in Your Phonograph
By Arthur A. Penn, Performed by Harry E. Humphrey.
Edison, 1922.
Coupling date: 6/20/1922. Cutout date: 10/31/1929.
Inventing Entertainment: The Motion Pictures and Sound Recordings of the Edison Companies

Listen to this recording (RealAudio Format)

Listen to this recording (wav Format, 8,471 Kb)

But Henry Livingston was no less noble or historic. He hailed from the Livingstons of the Hudson Valley (one of whose farms is now occupied by Camp Rising Sun of the Louis August Jonas Foundation, a place where I spent four amazing summers teaching swimming and lifesaving). Livingston’s biography at the University of Toronto site offers another path for a connections exercise (”What connects the Declaration of Independence, the American invasion of Canada, the famous poem about a visit from St. Nick, and George W. Bush?”):

Henry Livingston Jr. was born in Poughkeepsie, New York, on Oct. 13, 1748. The Livingston family was one of the important colonial and revolutionary families of New York. The Poughkeepsie branch, descended from Gilbert, the youngest son of Robert Livingston, 1st Lord of Livingston Manor, was not as well off as the more well-known branches, descended from sons Robert and Philip. Two other descendants of Gilbert Livingston, President George Walker Herbert Bush and his son, President-Elect George W. Bush, though, have done their share to bring attention to this line. Henry’s brother, Rev. John Henry Livingston, entered Yale at the age of 12, and was able to unite the Dutch and American branches of the Dutch Reformed Church. At the time of his death, Rev. Livingston was president of Rutgers University. Henry’s father and brother Gilbert were involved in New York politics, and Henry’s granduncle was New York’s first Lt. Governor. But the law was the natural home for many of Henry’s family. His brother-in-law, Judge Jonas Platt, was an unsuccessful candidate for governor, as was his daughter Elizabeth’s husband, U.S. Supreme Court Justice Smith Thompson. Henry’s grandson, Sidney Breese, was Chief Justice of the Illinois Supreme Court.

Known for his encyclopedic knowledge and his love of literature, Henry Livingston was a farmer, surveyor and Justice of the Peace, a judicial position dealing with financially limited criminal and civil cases. One of the first New Yorkers to enlist in the Revolutionary Army in 1775, Major Henry Livingston accompanied his cousin’s husband, General Montgomery, in his campaign up the Hudson River to invade Canada, leaving behind his new wife, Sarah Welles, and their week-old baby, on his Poughkeepsie property, Locust Grove. Baby Catherine was the subject of the first poem currently known by Major Livingston. Following this campaign, Livingston was involved in the War as a Commissioner of Sequestration, appropriating lands owned by British loyalists and selling them for the revolutionary cause. It was in the period following Sarah’s early death in 1783, that Major Livingston published most of his poems and prose, anonymously or under the pseudonym of R. Ten years after the death of Sarah, Henry married Jane Patterson, the daughter of a Dutchess County politician and sister of his next-door neighbor. Between both wives, Henry fathered twelve children. He published his good-natured, often occasional verse from 1787 in many journals, including Political Barometer, Poughkeepsie Journal, and New-York Magazine. His most famous poem, “Account of a Visit from St. Nicholas,” was until 2000 thought to have been the work of Clement Clarke Moore (1779-1863), who published it with his collected poems in 1844. Livingston died Feb. 29, 1828.

More on Henry Livingston and his authorship of the Christmas poem here.

Thomas Nast's full realization of Santa Claus, 1881.  Harper's Weekly, from the Ohio State University Billy Ireland Cartoon Collection.

Thomas Nast’s full realization of Santa Claus, “Merry Old Santa Claus,” January 1, 1881. Harper’s Weekly, from the Ohio State University Billy Ireland Cartoon Library and Museum.

Our views of Santa Claus owe a great deal also to the Coca-Cola advertising campaign. Coca-Cola first noted Santa’s use of the drink in a 1922 campaign to suggest Coke was a year-round drink (100 years after the publication of Livingston’s poem). The company’s on-line archives gives details:

In 1930, artist Fred Mizen painted a department store Santa in a crowd drinking a bottle of Coke. The ad featured the world’s largest soda fountain, which was located in the department store of Famous Barr Co. in St. Louis, Mo. Mizen’s painting was used in print ads that Christmas season, appearing in The Saturday Evening Post in December 1930.

1936 Coca-Cola Santa cardboard store display

  • 1936 Coca-Cola Santa cardboard store display

Archie Lee, the D’Arcy Advertising Agency executive working with The Coca-Cola Company, wanted the next campaign to show a wholesome Santa as both realistic and symbolic. In 1931, The Coca-Cola Company commissioned Michigan-born illustrator Haddon Sundblom to develop advertising images using Santa Claus — showing Santa himself, not a man dressed as Santa, as Mizen’s work had portrayed him.
1942 original oil painting - 'They Remembered Me'

  • 1942 original oil painting – ‘They Remembered Me’

For inspiration, Sundblom turned to Clement Clark Moore’s 1822 poem “A Visit From St. Nicholas” (commonly called “‘Twas the Night Before Christmas”). Moore’s description of St. Nick led to an image of Santa that was warm, friendly, pleasantly plump and human. For the next 33 years, Sundblom painted portraits of Santa that helped to create the modern image of Santa — an interpretation that today lives on in the minds of people of all ages, all over the world.

Santa Claus is a controversial figure. Debates still rage among parents about the wisdom of allowing the elf into the family’s home, and under what conditions. Theologians worry that the celebration of Christmas is diluted by the imagery. Other faiths worry that the secular, cultural impact of Santa Claus damages their own faiths (few other faiths have such a popular figure, and even atheists generally give gifts and participate in Christmas rituals such as putting up a decorated tree).

For over 100 years, Santa Claus has been a popular part of commercial, cultural and religious life in America. Has any other icon endured so long, or so well?

________________________
Below:
From the University of Toronto Library’s Representative Poetry Online

Major Henry Livingston, Jr. (1748-1828)

Account of a Visit from St. Nicholas

1 ‘Twas the night before Christmas, when all thro’ the house,

2 Not a creature was stirring, not even a mouse;

3 The stockings were hung by the chimney with care,

4 In hopes that St. Nicholas soon would be there;

5 The children were nestled all snug in their beds,

6 While visions of sugar plums danc’d in their heads,

7 And Mama in her ‘kerchief, and I in my cap,

8 Had just settled our brains for a long winter’s nap –

9 When out on the lawn there arose such a clatter,

10 I sprang from the bed to see what was the matter.

11 Away to the window I flew like a flash,

12 Tore open the shutters, and threw up the sash.

13 The moon on the breast of the new fallen snow,

14 Gave the lustre of mid-day to objects below;

15 When, what to my wondering eyes should appear,

16 But a miniature sleigh, and eight tiny rein-deer,

17 With a little old driver, so lively and quick,

18 I knew in a moment it must be St. Nick.

19 More rapid than eagles his coursers they came,

20 And he whistled, and shouted, and call’d them by name:

21 “Now! Dasher, now! Dancer, now! Prancer, and Vixen,

22 “On! Comet, on! Cupid, on! Dunder and Blixem;

23 “To the top of the porch! to the top of the wall!

24 “Now dash away! dash away! dash away all!”

25 As dry leaves before the wild hurricane fly,

26 When they meet with an obstacle, mount to the sky;

27 So up to the house-top the coursers they flew,

28 With the sleigh full of Toys — and St. Nicholas too:

29 And then in a twinkling, I heard on the roof

30 The prancing and pawing of each little hoof.

31 As I drew in my head, and was turning around,

32 Down the chimney St. Nicholas came with a bound:

33 He was dress’d all in fur, from his head to his foot,

34 And his clothes were all tarnish’d with ashes and soot;

35 A bundle of toys was flung on his back,

36 And he look’d like a peddler just opening his pack:

37 His eyes — how they twinkled! his dimples how merry,

38 His cheeks were like roses, his nose like a cherry;

39 His droll little mouth was drawn up like a bow.

40 And the beard of his chin was as white as the snow;

41 The stump of a pipe he held tight in his teeth,

42 And the smoke it encircled his head like a wreath.

43 He had a broad face, and a little round belly

44 That shook when he laugh’d, like a bowl full of jelly:

45 He was chubby and plump, a right jolly old elf,

46 And I laugh’d when I saw him in spite of myself;

47 A wink of his eye and a twist of his head

48 Soon gave me to know I had nothing to dread.

49 He spoke not a word, but went straight to his work,

50 And fill’d all the stockings; then turn’d with a jerk,

51 And laying his finger aside of his nose

52 And giving a nod, up the chimney he rose.

53 He sprung to his sleigh, to his team gave a whistle,

54 And away they all flew, like the down of a thistle:

55 But I heard him exclaim, ere he drove out of sight –

56 Happy Christmas to all, and to all a good night.

Online text copyright © 2005, Ian Lancashire for the Department of English, University of Toronto. Published by the Web Development Group, Information Technology Services, University of Toronto Libraries. Be sure to visit this site for more information on this poem, on Maj. Livingston, and on poetry in general.

More:

 


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.

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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

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Yes, this is an encore post.

Yes, this is mostly an encore post.


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