A gentle reminder ...

The goal of this blog initially was for Mr. Mc to show his students and friends what he doing while in Pennsylvania and DC in 2011. Now it's being used as a place for him, travelling colleagues and former students to discuss edumacation and history related "stuff" as well as ... well, anything which pops into his head. Mr. Mc would never knowingly embarrass either the school he loves or the family he is devoted to. By joining in the discussion, he expects the same of you.

Thursday, October 3, 2013

Is that a woman in the boat?

Washington Crossing the Delaware

  Emanuel Leutze, 1851, Metropolitan Museum of Art (New York City)
As we work through the Revolutionary War, my students and I wrestle with this painting: Washington Crossing the Deleware by Emauel Leutze. This painting is roughly twelve feet by twenty one feet and images of it do not do it justice. We wrestle with the painting as a whole, but mostly with the figures in the boat. With no background knowledge of the Deleware River, the Battle of Trenton, fashion of the 18th Century, and art composition, they notice things:
  • Is that a women in the boat? Would she really have been there?
  • Why is Washington standing? Isn't that dangerous?
  • Why are they all dressed differently. Why are some in uniforms and other not? What's the deal with free black man and the guy with beret. Would they have really been in the boat?
  • Who is the guy behind Washington?
When students are engaged, they are a force to be recconned with. All three classes had great questions and offered impressive guesses as to Leutze's choices in this retelling of the crossing. At the end of this exercise we read an except (below) from Fischer's Washington Crossing. They are always surprised at how much of the painting the understood. They don't know how to articulate what they see, but they notice none the less.
The painting is familiar to us in a general way, but when we look at it again its details take us by surprise. Washington's small boat is crowded with thirteen men. Their dress tells us that they are soliders from many parts of America, and each of them has a story revealed by a few strokes of the artist's brush. One man wears the short tarpaulin jacket of a New England seaman; we look again and discover that he is of African descent. Another is a recent Scottish immigrant, still wearing the Balmoral bonnet. A third is a an androgynous figure in a loose red shirt, maybe a woman in man's clothing, pulling at the oar.
At the bow and stern of the boat are hard-faced western riflemen in hunting shirts and deerskin leggings. Huddled between the thwarts are farmers from Pennsylvania and New Jersey, in blanket coats and broad-brimmed hats. One carries a countryman's double barrel shotgun. The other looks very ill, and his head is swathed in a bandage. A soldier beside them is in full uniform, a rarity in this army; he wears the blue coat and red facings of Haslet's Deleware Regiment. Another figure wears a boat cloak and an oiled hat that a prosperous Balitmore merchant might have used on a West India Voyage; his sleeve reveals the facings of Smallwood's silk-stocking Maryland Regiment. Hiden behind them is mysterious thirteenth man. Only his weapon is visible; one wonders who he might have been.
The dominant figures in the painting are two gentlement of Virginia who stand tall above the rest. One of them is Lieutenant James Monroe, holding a big American flag upright against the storm. The other is Washington in his Continental uniform of buff and blue. He holds a brass telescope and wears a heavy saber, symbolic of a stateman's vision and a soldier's strength. The artist invites us to see each of these soldiers as an idividual, but he also reminds us that they are all in the same boat, working desparately against wind and current. He has given them a common sense of mission, and in the stormy sky above them he has painted a bright prophetic star, shining through a veil of a cloud.
-taken from the introduction of Washington's Crossing by David Hackett Fischer
I love my my job.

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