Saturday, December 24, 2016

The Last of 2016

I had plans to continue with my series on firsts in Indiana art, but as plans do, this one went awry. This past year has not been a bad year. I can't really complain. But it has been a tiring and frustrating year. I hope that you have had better, and I hope that we will all have better in 2017. I have to admit that my writing on line will be far less in 2017 than in 2016. I will continue to write, but not on such a schedule as before. In any case, thanks for reading, Merry Christmas, and Happy New Year!

Terence Hanley

Tuesday, December 13, 2016

Firsts in Indiana Art-Part Two

The First Known Artist in Indiana--According to author Fred D. Cavinder in his compilation The Indiana Book of Records, Firsts, and Fascinating Facts (1985), "the earliest art on record in Indiana" is a wash drawing made by Governor Henry Hamilton of a rock formation along the Wabash River near what is now Logansport. Mr. Cavinder gives the year of composition as 1777. What must surely be the same work is shown in Mirages of Memory: 200 Years of Indiana Art, Volume I (1977), a catalogue of an exhibition from 1976-1977. That catalogue states that Hamilton composed his picture in 1778 rather than 1777. Here are some details:
     In October of 1778, Hamilton led an expedition of about 230 men southwest from Detroit to Fort Sackville [located in Vincennes in what is now Indiana], then in the hands of colonist sympathizers. The troops travelled by canoe, carrying a heavy load of provisions and arms. The journey was a backbreaking two-and-one-half month struggle with swampy portages, rapids, rain, snow, and accidents. During this time, Hamilton kept an extensive journal documenting the campaign and made a number of sketches directly from the landscape.
     The work included in the exhibition, Shiprock, Wabash River (no. 21), does not appear to be far removed from the military tradition of factual representation. The military man's eye for details is also revealed in Hamilton's journal entry concerning this location. His careful descriptions, in text and sketch, allowed later generations to recognize the exact location of the scene which is near present-day Logansport.
     The sketch of the shiprock reveals that Hamilton understood pictorial representation. The work was done by a man who obviously grasped the principles of design and space, and who was familiar with landscape traditions. This suggests that Hamilton's work was more than a military record. [p. 20]
In other words, Governor Hamilton's drawing may have been more than a mere tool; it may also have been a work of art, and because it no longer has any military or topographic utility, Shiprock, Wabash River may exist now only as a work of art, or at the very least as a historical document. I should add this unequivocal sentence from later in Mirages of Memory: "[Shiprock, Wabash River, 1778] is the earliest known drawing produced in the area now known as Indiana," very likely the source of Fred Cavinder's information. (p. 55) The original source for both accounts may have been Wilbur D. Peat's seminal Pioneer Painters of Indiana (Art Association of Indianapolis, 1954).

There were Europeans in Indiana before Henry Hamilton. The earliest visitors were explorers, traders, and military men, but by the early eighteenth century, there were trading posts or small settlements as well. Again, it seems likely to me that there were artists among the earliest European visitors to Indiana, even if all they drew were maps. We'll have to go with what we have, though, and call Henry Hamilton the first known artist in Indiana, meaning, more precisely, the first artist to create a work of art in what is now Indiana. We can also call him the first watercolorist and the first creator of a landscape in the state. The irony is that Hamilton was a villain in Indiana, a man known as the "Hair-buyer General" for his alleged policy of buying the scalps of white settlers from the Indians who took them. Luckily for us, George Rogers Clark put Hamilton in his place by capturing Fort Sackville and Hamilton himself in 1779.

Shiprock, Wabash River, 1778, by Henry Hamilton, a drawing of 8-3/8 x 10-3/4 inches, drawn in pencil, wash, and ink, and the first known work of art created in what is now Indiana, from Mirages of Memory: 200 Years of Indiana Art, Volume I (University of Notre Dame, 1977).
The Fall of Fort Sackville by Frederick Coffay Yohn of Indianapolis, a canvas completed in 1923 and later adapted to a commemorative U.S. postage stamp on the sesquicentennial of the event. There are counties in Indiana named Clark and Hamilton. Clark County is named of course for George Rogers Clark, shown here on the left. Hamilton County is not named for Henry Hamilton, however, the figure on the right. Note that Clark and his men are rough, informal, and common, while Hamilton and his men are upright and dressed in finery. This image encapsulates, I think, the idea of America, of the people fighting for and securing their rights against arbitrary--and elitist--power.
Text and captions copyright 2016 Terence E. Hanley

Sunday, December 11, 2016

Firsts in Indiana Art-Part One

Today, December 11, 2016, is the two-hundredth birthday of the great State of Indiana. In observance of the Indiana Bicentennial, I would like to begin a series on firsts in Indiana art, a series to carry through to the end of the birth month and birth year of the Hoosier State. My sources will include those listed on a new page called "Bibliography," accessible by clicking on tabs on the right and at the top of this page. I invite additions, corrections, and speculations to and on this list of Firsts in Indiana Art.

The First Artist in What Is Now Indiana--No one knows who was the first artist in what is now the State of Indiana, for that person's name or identity is lost in prehistory. (From here on out, I'll shorten "What is now Indiana" to just "Indiana.") According to various sources, the first people in Indiana were of the Paleo-Indian Period (or Tradition) of 8000 to 6000 B.C. These are believed to have been wandering hunters in pursuit of big game. They left behind them expertly made fluted points of chert and chalcedony, artifacts of an obviously utilitarian purpose but of an equally obvious aesthetic quality. These were tools, however, and not specifically works of art.

The Paleo-Indian Period was followed by the Archaic or Meso-Indian Period (or Tradition) of 4000 to 2000, 1000, or 400 BC, depending on which source you consult. Indians of the Archaic Period are also supposed to have been wanderers. They made points of stone, too, but the artifacts most closely associated with them are shell mounds or middens, the castoff remains of freshwater mussels hunted or harvested for their meat. I should point out that the harvesting of mussels for mother-of-pearl buttons and other items, as well as for freshwater pearls, was a craze in Indiana during the early twentieth century. I think it extremely likely that American Indians of the Archaic Period would have recognized the potential for making decorative items from mussel shells and pearls, too. In fact, archaeologists have found shell (and copper) beads in graves dating from the Archaic Period in Indiana. Whether these were the earliest decorative or artistic rather than simply utilitarian artifacts in Indiana is, by my sources, an unanswered question.

The Woodland Indian Period (or Tradition), which ended with European contact, was marked by the development of agriculture and permanent and semi-permanent settlements, among other advances. In his booklet An Introduction to the Prehistory of Indiana (Indiana Historical Society, 1983), James H. Kellar was more explicit: "The Woodland Tradition is basically defined by the presence of pottery containers with surfaces distinguished by cord impressions or other decorations applied using a flat paddle-like tool." (p. 35) Note the word decorations. A roughened surface makes a pot or container easier to handle. (My supposition.) It's a short step from a roughened surface--a utilitarian development--to a decorated roughened surface--an aesthetic or artistic development. In any event, with pottery-making came a surface upon which decorations--art--could be made and which might survive into the historical period, including to the present day.

It's safe, then, to say by the archaeological record that the first artist in Indiana was probably from the Archaic Period, certainly by the time of pottery-making in the Woodland Indian Period, in which case that artist may very well have been a woman. Being an artist, I would go further than that. The people of the Paleo-Indian Period were people--they were human beings. One defining characteristic of us as human beings is our creativity, not just for solving problems in everyday life but also for expressing ourselves and for communicating what we apprehend about the world and about ourselves and our existence. With that in mind, I feel confident in saying that the first artist in Indiana was among the first people in Indiana, setting foot here 10,000 or more years ago.

Late Paleo Indian-Early Archaic Blades, presumably from the period 8000 BC and after, from An Introduction to the Prehistory of Indiana by James H. Kellar (Indianapolis: Indiana Historical Society, 1983), p. 28. Fluted points are among the earliest surviving artifacts of people in Indiana. Although strictly utilitarian in nature, they have an undeniable aesthetic quality. Their production would have required a combination of technological innovation, manual dexterity, and visualization of an ideal, all requisite for the creation of art. Is there any reason to believe that Paleo Indians would not also have created works of art?

Middle Woodland Pottery, presumably from the period 1000 B.C. to 1000 A.D., from the same booklet (p. 45). Here are obvious works of art, a clay figurine that does not appear to have had a utilitarian purpose, and the decorative surfaces of clay pots. Having done only a cursory search for cave painting in Indiana, I can't say that there is any known art of that type in the state. Nonetheless, pottery, though not two-dimensional, offered early Indians a surface upon which they could create decorations. It's no surprise that their decorations would take the form of patterns imposed upon, if not recognized in, nature.

Text copyright 2016 Terence E. Hanley