Saturday, September 22, 2007

Ninth President; William Henry Harrison - 2 comments

Hello Tippecanoe! When did we stop using such great nicknames for our Presidents? To recap, we've just seen:
Old Hickory
Old Kinderhook
Tippecanoe &
Tyler Too

OK, well, maybe Tyler Too is a stretch, but the full slogan was a big part of Harrison's campaign for president against the incumbent Martin Van Buren. And it's survived as one of the catchiest phrases in US politics, just behind "I Like Ike."

Harrison died just thirty days into the presidency. His inauguration happened on a particularly cold day, and WHH made his long acceptance speech without a coat. He then took part in a long parade, and developed pneumonia and pleurisy. He struggled with the illness, but succumbed on April 4, 1841.

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Eighth President: Martin Van Buren - 3 comments

Hello Old Kinderhook! Yes, that's Mr. Martin Van Buren, the eighth President. Let's skip the history and go straight to the fun facts, shall we?

1. They called him Old Kinderhook.
2. Van Buren popularized what's known as the 'spoils system.' When a new President takes office, and he replaces the whole presidential cabinet, they're following VB's lead. Before this, Cabinet appointments did not change each administration.
3. Van Buren was the first President to be born an American citizen, not British.
4. Strangely, though, his family spoke Dutch. Martin learned English as a second language.

Friday, September 14, 2007

Seventh President: Andrew Jackson - 3 comments

They didn't call him Old Hickory for nothing. Jackson was known for being tough, and there are really too many good stories to mention them all. My favorites:

- Jackson was the first President to incur an assassination attempt. One Richard Lawrence walked up to Jackson inside the Capitol Rotunda, and pulled out two pistols. Both pistols misfired when Lawrence pulled the trigger, and Jackson promptly attacked Lawrence with his walking stick. Presidential aides had to restrain the President, and Davy Crockett(!) held Lawrence down.

- Jackson was responsible for a huge program of Indian Removal, which is certainly infamous enough that we don't need to discuss it. But he also adopted a young Creek Indian boy named Lyncoya, and raised him as a son. Lyncoya died of TB when he was sixteen.

Sixth President: John Quincy Adams - 0 comments

Listen: the son of a former President runs for President himself. He's not very well liked, and he doesn't win a majority of the popular vote or the electoral college. But the election is close, and with a bit of political wheel-and-dealing, he wins the presidency anyway. Sound familiar?

Of course! It was John Quincy Adams. (Did his supporters just refer to him as "Q"?) But you knew that, of course. Son of John Adams (#2), he spent most of his political career outside the US, as ambassador to various countries. He returned to join James Monroe's cabinet, where he brokered treaties and actually wrote the Monroe Doctrine.

Neat facts about Q:

- After his presidency, Q served in the House of Representatives for nearly two more decades.
- Q came up with the idea of abolishing slavery in a time of civil war. Q argued that if the nation ever became so split as to go to war, the President should free the slaves and disrupt the South's economy & society.
- When Q was sworn in, he held his hand on a Book of Laws, instead of the Bible.

Fifth President: James Monroe - 0 comments

James Monroe, president from 1817-1825, fought against partisanship within the government. He ushered in what came to be known as the "Era of Good Feelings." His most lasting contribution was the "Monroe Doctrine," which took a stand against European influence in the Americas.

The original portrait I drew from was completed in 1816, by John Vanderlyn.

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Fourth President: James Madison - 0 comments

James Madison is known as the Father of the Constitution. He was instrumental in getting the Convention together, and pushed hard for a more centralized, powerful government than the Articles of Confederation has provided.

He wasn't a great President, however. Outmaneuvered by the British & French, he got the country into a messy war, which ultimately ended in a draw. Historical Highlight: his First Lady Dolley Madison was known for wearing a turban. Turbans! Think any first lady could get away with that?

Madison was president from 1809-1817. The model for my sketch is a portrait by Chester Harding, completed around 1829, a dozen years after Madison retired.

Saturday, September 8, 2007

Third President: Thomas Jefferson - 0 comments

Thomas Jefferson? That guy? This is part of the trouble with drawing presidents. We know what they look like. They're on our nickels! This sketch is from a lesser-known, definitely non-canonical portrait of Jefferson by Gilbert Stuart. Jefferson loved classical art (just think of Monticello and the University of Virginia) and asked Stuart to paint his profile like an old Roman coin. He loved the result, thought it was very accurate, and called it "the best which has been taken of me." Jefferson lived from 1743 to 1826, and served two terms as President, from 1801 to 1809.

Here's a bit of Jeffersonian history I didn't know: America had a serious pirate problem during his administration. The pirates of the Barbary Coast were seriously hurting America's foreign commerce, extracting outrageous tolls, and sometimes commandeering whole shipments. Jefferson sent the Navy to settle the problem, which kind of amazes me. The American Navy went to tussle with African Pirates at the turn of the nineteenth century.

Thursday, September 6, 2007

Second President: John Adams - 1 comments

John Adams was GW's Vice President, and he didn't like it. After all his service to the new country: fighting the Revolutionary War, on the committee that wrote the Declaration of Independence, negotiated the Anglo-American Treaty of 1783, and what does he get? The Vice Presidency, the office he described as, "the most insignificant office that ever the invention of man contrived."

But he did go on to become President, but it turned out to be unpleasant work. The dour Adams was happy to retire after his four-year term ended in 1801.

This portrait by John Trumbull dates from 1793, commissioned by Adams to celebrate his own role in drafting the Treaty of Paris. Nice!

First President: George Washington - 1 comments

Hello Mister President. George Washington was our first president, an obvious choice after his military skills helped the Americans win the Revolutionary War. The source portrait was painted near the end of Washington's life, in 1795, by Rembrandt Peale.

about the sketch experiment . . . - 2 comments

Welcome to the Hall of the Presidents! In my next round of Sketch Experimenting, I'll be drawing blind contours in a short series - each US President, in order. I'm taking all my source material from paintings in the National Portrait Gallery in Washington, DC.

Oh, you've got questions? Fire away.

Yes, good question. Yes, I realize it's kind of dumb to be drawing such famous people. In fact, many of the Presidents have something of an 'approved' portrait, and so one image of them has become canonical. Is it stupid of me to draw from other, non-canonical sources, knowing that my drawings are competing with America's own self-image? Maybe. Will it be interesting? Yes!

Yes, this series is much shorter than the last one. It's not that the popes tired me out, exactly, but I was in the market for something a bit less demanding.

And oh, blind contours? Right. So - I find a source - in this case Presidential portraits - and do a drawing. Without picking up the pen, and without looking at my paper. It's one big contour, and it's blind. Then I take a look at the mess I've made and embellish a bit. I don't add any extra lines - really I just darken a few that seem to make the image more interesting. The whole blind contour thing is practice, really, to help me coordinate looking and drawing, but also it frees my over-thinking brain up to make some looser lines. And I like those. Looser lines.