Exploring historical homes fascinates me. Indeed, I can think of few things I enjoy more during my summer travels. During a tour of a historic home in Colonial Williamsburg, Virginia, the curator shared a fascinating account of a picture of a little girl in a blue dress on display in one of the bedrooms. I remember being completely enthralled, as was my dear daughter, who shares my passion for the discovery and exploration of all things from the days of old.
At sixteen, she is a multi-faceted creative: an alto saxophonist, a promising artist, and a writer (wish I could add aspiring, but for now let’s just go with reluctant). She’s my personal assistant this summer, and one of her recent tasks was to gather research material for this month’s blog post. What I’d hoped for was a few notes substantiating the curator’s claims: something I could fashion into my own words. What I received exceeded my expectations. I enjoyed reading it very much, and I hope you will too.
History, it’s accountings of the past, memories shared and recorded storytelling. Of course, like our own memories and our own folk tales, sometimes details can be switched, cut, exaggerated, or even completely added. We can’t blame historians. We’re all only human after all, even if it does mean that misinformation could spread to the masses, creating something that would make the truth seem a tad too odd for the time period.
One of the many ways we have recorded history is with art. It’s been around longer than the first written languages of human civilization. We have seen the advancements and influences of modern humans through these paintings. In the medieval age, the Church ruled the majority of everything, and that extended to the arts. The influences of studying the human as its own entity and how we as a people are unique, beautiful, and powerful didn’t come along until the Renaissance, where we see the masters of art emerge with stunning, almost photorealistic paintings of the human form. Their extensive study of human anatomy helped in capturing the realism, and that’s where our mystery of “Head Hunters” comes into play.
It is said that American folk artists would paint stock bodies in the winter, and when the weather warmed up they would go in search of clients who could pick out their body and have their head painted on it.
Convenient? Yes. True? Not exactly. Well, at least there are no accounts from contemporaneous artists or models about such encounters. In fact, if you were to take a look at any talented young artist’s work the symptoms of “head hunting” would show. This is largely due to the artist’s lack of proper training in anatomy, perspective, and even proportion, for these things weren’t as emphasized in art during that period as they were in the classical era. Apprenticeships and art schools weren’t as popular as they used to be, and therefore inexperienced artists were painting portraits of young women with malformed shoulders and girls with giraffe necks and impossibly long arms.
To explain the dreadfully uncomfortable positions of these poor subjects, the myth of the painters in search of heads came to fruition. It makes sense, doesn’t it? We would never pay good money for an inexperienced artist to do our portraits now; it is almost always a bad idea.
So why not put our modern logic into the logic of our nineteenth-century peers? The issue is during that era, early America didn’t have the extreme influences in art that were prevalent for centuries across the great pond. European artists were trained and told to study, study, study. That simply wasn’t happening as much in our quickly growing, rapidly industrialized nation. Our intellectual revolution was in machines, not marble and frescos. As far as we know, these peculiar paintings might have been as good as it got for some of the wealthy patrons of the day.
In March 2015, I wrote a blog post titled, Write What You Know, in which I spoke of my real-life experience with my dear daughter as the inspiration for Lady Elizabeth: Everything Will Change Book One. In honor of her lovely contribution, I am giving away a signed copy of Lady Elizabeth to one lucky commenter.
A US mailing address is required to be eligible to receive the signed paperback. Therefore, one P. O. Dixon eBook is up for grabs internationally—winner’s choice.
Hurry! The giveaway contest ends at midnight EDST on Tuesday, August 1, 2017.