This week I’m in Pennsylvania, home for my sister’s annual solo show at the Red Raven Art Company in Lancaster, Pa. This year’s show, entitled “The Yolk of the Coal Apple”, is inspired by our family legends:
The Seminole Admiral is a painting of John Bonmaison McHardy, who rejected plantation life in Florida, disgusted with injustice and the treatment of slaves on the sugar plantations. After he inherited the family’s acreage, he chose instead to live among the Seminole Indians. He eventually returned to England to become an admiral in the Royal Navy, and made it his mission to interfere with and dismantle the slave trade to the US.
In the foreground, my sister demonstrates how to wrangle an alligator. Beside her is the propeller of the plane flown by Harriet Quimby — the first woman to earn her pilots license in 1911. Our grandmother considered learning to fly a plane – at age 16 in 1936 – one of her greatest achievements. The scene is set in the stair hall at Kingston Lacy, our ancestral home in southern England. The painting “Las Meninas” by Velazques hangs over the stair well, and figures from Sargen’s Boit Daughters, his version of Las Meninas are situated in a receding room as figures in the composition rather than a painting within the painting.
This composition was borrowed from my mother, who painted Tobacco Row Mountain in Virginia 40 years ago. The landmark would be familiar to generations of my ancestors who lived in this region. The red shoes of the swinging girl mean “there is no place like home”. The title refers to the song “Swing Low Sweet Chariot”, the original version is thought to be encrypted with information about the underground railroad.
This is a self portrait. That I am removing a golf glove off the wrong hand is an indication that the painting was done from a mirror image. The “golf glove” as I mean for it to be seen as , is borrowed from a Carolus Durand painting he did of his wife. Duran was Singer Sargeants teacher, and he devoted much of his practice to studying Velazques. I am also wearing my grandmother’s golf shoes, some of the prized possessions of an amateur golf champion. Pictures of my grandmothers are pinned on the wall beside me, one with a pearl pin, one with a piece of amber. Hanging on a string is a ring I always wear which was passed from my grandfather to my mother, then to me. The violin – which has no strings, bridge or f holes represents an unfulfilled dream of my grandfathers to play the violin. It is a reminder to myself to play it, and carry on the lives of my grandparents. My dog, Fletcher, my constant studio companion is posed next to me. On his collar are the keys to Corfe Castle, an ancestral home with a long story…
The imagery for this painting was provided by my great great great great great grandmother, Margaret Erskine, who was held for five years a captive of a Shawnee Indian tribe from 1779 to 1784. In her written account of these years, she describes seeing the encampment of another woman who was taken captive and married to an Indian chief. When her wagon train was ambushed, a trunk of her belongings was seized. She lived in a dwelling in the woods draped in french silks and the family ate off silver and china from her trousseau.
Backdropped by Tobacco Row Mountain, a coal train (both sides of my family were entrenched in the coal business), a model of the airplane my grandmother learned to fly at age 16, and a fishing boat suggest means to either get out of the place, or make an enjoyable life in it. The three modes of transportation also suggest progress that happened in one place.
The arrangement is about my great great great grandfather, Quinn Morton, who survived the civil war by hunting robins after he was orphaned. The house in the background is from a photo of “Point of Honor” the home of his mother’s father, who was the physician to Patrick Henry (who said ,”Give me Liberty or Give Me Death”). The other photo is of a West Virginia coal train. When Quinn Morton grew up he became a ruthless owner and operator of coal mines during the mine wars of the early 1900s. His other legacy survives in the back yard of my parents home, and in some other family plots in Virginia. He bred roses as a hobby, and gave cuttings to commemorate birthdays. A hundred years later, his rose bushes still bloom.
Macular Degeneration is disease of the eye, which produces a blind dark spot at the focal point of ones vision, suggesting the obscured history of Native Americans. The focal point of the painting is a portrait of Olive Oatman, who was abducted from a wagon train in 1850. She was enslaved by a Mojave Indian tribe and given a cactus ink tattoo on her chin. Her freedom was ransomed five years after her capture. She had a silk dress made embroidered with the design she bore on her chin.
To see more of my sister’s work, please visit her website. As of today, more than half of the paintings in this year’s show have sold. Inquiries should be directed to Sarah at firstname.lastname@example.org. Also check out my post on last year’s show, Pony Sails and Fox Bucks.