This blog showcases small and large paintings depicting landscapes, wildlife, and still life subjects. Selected paintings are for sale.

Thursday, August 2, 2007

What did Captain Smith see?

I frequently play a little time-travel game as I drive around Maryland’s Eastern Shore. I ask myself, as I look out over the marshes, what did this place look like 400 years ago? What must it have been like for Captain Smith as he commanded a small open vessel up the Chesapeake? Perhaps it looked something like this painting. Quiet, cold, obscure. Bounteous yes, but not without serious dangers – the indigenous people weren’t always kindly to bearded Englishmen who often said one thing while doing another.

If we’re really honest with ourselves and with history there are two things of which we can be certain: John Smith didn’t see the Chesapeake the same way we see it today, and what we see is simply a fragment of what once was.

Smith didn’t see the Chesapeake as something to be appreciated as one might a fine painting or as a recreational stress-relieving interlude. He saw it as commodity, as a way to make a name and a fortune, and as adventure. Rather than seeing a peaceful scene, he might have focused on the oyster beds (they were hungry that first year) or the pines in the distance (good for ship masts perhaps?). In other words, one might say he saw the Chesapeake through utilitarian eyes.

What the early 21st century observer sees when they look out over the Chesapeake is a sad tattered remnant of what once inspired Smith to write “…heaven and earth never agreed better to frame a place for man’s habitation.” Gone are the migratory masses that blotted out the sun and seemed to go on forever. Gone are the oysters. Gone are the massive trees. Much is gone, and yet the Chesapeake can still inspire people with its beauty, much as one might admire an old, worn out, but beautifully-tailored evening gown.

(unframed 5x7 acrylic on gesso board)

painting will be up for auction - check back soon!

No comments: