Saturday, November 17, 2012

"Of course he's beneath us, he's an actor!"*

These paintings are small, about 5" X 7" each, meant as sketches 
for a project to show the Ohio River and boats that 
cruised her currents, as well as of scenes and events. 
I made them a couple years ago, along with some drawings,
 adaptations of navigation charts to give the viewer a sense of 
the place, and an idea of where the scene was located.

When the first steamboat journeyed the river just over 
200 years ago on its way to New Orleans, it paddled through 
primeval forests, where flocks of birds, among them 
the now-extinct Passenger Pigeon and Carolina
Paroquette, were so thick they counted in the millions.
During migration, the flocks blackened the 
sky for days. Hunters did not have to aim their 
guns at the birds, but just fired into the air 
for them to fall to the ground, more dead birds
than they could eat. 

The Ohio River got its name from the Native American 
phrase meaning "beautiful river." It would be an odyssey 
to attempt to explore and to effectively portray 
its beauty. One worth doing, if I can find a way. 

*A line from one of my favorite movies, My Favorite Year
starring Peter O'Toole. I laugh and laugh every time
I see it. What has it got to do with the little paintings?
Nuthin', other than for the fact that so many people 
do not understand why I want to tell this story.
(But of course I'm beneath them, I'm an artist.) 
Those who bother to listen think 
it's a great story, and are enthralled. 


dive said...

I can't wait for your book to come out so I can read the story for myself.
Love the paintings (as always). I wonder if any of the early photographers managed to capture those awesome flocks of passenger pigeons before they were wiped out.

Speedway said...

Sadly, the story isn't in my little book. Since it is a bare overview, it has been edited to be an outline. Some sparks remain, but they are mostly the seeds for the NEXT one, if anyone will have it.

The little paintings got me started on this odyssey. Along with the river chart drawings I imagine a big exhibit.

I've only seen drawings of the swarms of birds flying over frontier Kentucky. The parrots were killed off, regarded as pest birds by the settlers. The last passenger pigeon died in the Cincinnati Zoo in 1914.

Gerald (Hyde DP) said...

what a fascinating story - love the painting

Speedway said...

Hi, Gerald, thank you for your kind words.

The whole story is fascinating, Gerald. The one about the first steamboat is the stuff of movies, but the family's papers seem to be non extant. A book was written about the journey about 30 years ago, others about the New Madrid Earthquake of 1811, which the boat traveled through, others about flatboating. I think it can be woven into a longer story, just as fascinating and even more dramatic.

And then there are 2 or 3 others I'd like to tell. We'll see how much I can get done.