Saturday, February 2, 2013

The Underground Railroad

Charles T. Webber (1825-1911) was not an Indiana artist, nor is his painting, "The Underground Railroad," set in Indiana. However, two of Webber's subjects, Levi Coffin (1798-1877) and his wife, Catherine White Coffin, were Hoosiers, having lived in Indiana from 1826 to 1847. Coffin's house, located in Newport (now Fountain City), Indiana, was a way station on the Underground Railroad and is now a National Historic Landmark and on the National Register of Historic Places. For his work, Coffin was considered "the President of the Underground Railroad."

Artist Charles T. Webber, born on Christmas Day, 1825, in Cayuga County, New York, was a well known and accomplished artist in his adopted home city of Cincinnati. He painted "The Underground Railroad" to commemorate the work of the Coffins and other abolitionists. Webber considered the painting to be his masterpiece and exhibited it at the World's Columbian Exposition in Chicago in 1893. That would make this year the 120th anniversary of "The Underground Railroad." The Cincinnati Art Museum acquired the painting after Webber's death in 1911 and holds it in their collections. So is it illustration or is it fine art? If illustration contains a narrative and fine art does not, then isn't most if not all art illustration? Does the distinction really matter?

Text copyright 2013 Terence E. Hanley

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