Wednesday, January 10, 2018

Greene Day

working copy in Greenville
The 20th-century painter Howard Chandler Christy was born on January 10th 1872 in Morgan County Ohio east of Columbus. I'm not going to go into a biography of him, you can look to Wikipedia for that, but you are familiar with his work and don't know it. Christy's most famous painting is a depiction of the Signing of the US Constitution which has been reproduced in countless history books and publications. He has many other notable works but the one I want to focus on here is his 1945 Signing of the Treaty of Greene Ville, or simply, The Signing. Christy, a native Ohioan, was commissioned for the work to commemorate the 150th anniversary of the treaty which technically ended the Northwest Indian Wars and formed most of the future state of Ohio. Again this post is mostly about the painting and not Christy, the preceding events, or the treaty itself.

the final in Columbus
I'd originally seen the painting in person at the Garst Museum in Greenville Ohio (formerly known as Greene Ville) but I was a bit confused as it didn't look exactly like the one I'd seen in print. Then I learned the "real" painting was located in the Ohio Statehouse. I thought maybe the one in the museum was a reproduction. It turns out that there are two versions of the artwork. The painting above the fireplace in the Garst Museum is what is known as the working copy, which is basically a practice version. The painting in the Ohio Statehouse Rotunda stairway is the final version. Both were painted by Christy and there are a few obvious differences. Don't let the difference in colors in my examples fool you. That isn't really an accurate representation. Both are pretty muted when you see them in person.

The working copy measures 6' x 7' whereas the final is a whopping 22' x 17' and the largest painting exhibited in the Ohio Statehouse. I got to lay my eyes on the final when I visited Columbus last month.

The central figures are Little Turtle (Miami) on the left with outstretched arms presenting the wampum, interpreter William Wells in the center, and General Mad Anthony Wayne to the right. On each side are various individuals representing Indian and American figures that signed the treaty. In the background of the Indian side, we see Fort Greene Ville. The council house appears behind the Americans.

One major difference between the two is the 15 star US flag at the top. It seems more faded in the working copy and not as prominent as in the final. It often gets cropped out of reproductions of the working copy. I was hard-pressed to find an uncropped version suitable for this post but it can be seen here. The postcards sold at the Garst Museum show this cropped version as illustrated in the photo at the top. As you can see there is a lot of space between the subjects and the flag so I can see why this is done.

a couple of areas of key differences
There are other reproductions around the town of Greenville. One is a very large uncropped reprint in the lobby of the Wayne HealthCare Hospital. It appears to be nearly as large as the final version. This is something I wouldn't have known about but an old friend of mine was partially responsible for this reproduction and installation and tipped me off. Another is etched on a granite monument at Elm and Main near the location of the proceedings at Fort Greene Ville.

Several individuals have slightly different appearances in the two paintings. The one I noticed right away is with 22-year-old William Henry Harrison, aide de camp to General Wayne. It's probably the best way to tell the difference between the two versions in print. Harrison is standing behind the General and one person over to his left. In the working copy, he looks straight ahead, breaking the 4th wall of the scene. He doesn't resemble Harrison much and has bright ruddy cheeks. In the final, we see him facing to his right and toward Wayne and looking much like the Rembrandt Peale painting of him from 1813. Chaplain David Jones is standing immediately to Harrison's left and whispering to him in the working copy. Perhaps he has some divine knowledge and is saying to Harrison, "when you give your inaugural address in 46 years don't forget to wear your hat and coat". Jones is seated away from the future President in the final and not whispering to him. Perhaps that explains why things turned out the way they did with Harrison.

Lieutenant William Clark (of later Lewis and Clark fame) stands to the right of Harrison and looks more toward his left in the final. Meriwether Lewis is there too by the way. He is behind The Sun (Potawatomi) signing the treaty at the table. It's not that noticeable of a difference but it gives me an excuse to mention that this is where the duo met.

Black Hoof (Shawnee) and Bad Bird (Chippewa), in the foreground to the left and right of standing Little Turtle (Miami), appear to have mohawks in the working copy and instead have horns and feathers adorning their hair in the final.
The treaty itself has had markings added to it in the final.

As I researched this work I came across an interpretation of the painting that felt the scene represented the growth of civilization. For example, as we move from left to right, we have half naked crouching Indians while Little Turtle stands. In the shadowy center, there is William Wells, a white captive raised by the Miami, who went back and forth between the two societies. Wells served as the interpreter here. He was also married to Little Turtle's daughter.  So that's his father in law to his right. Further right in the scene, we see well dressed and seated men with literate scribes representing civilization. I think it's a good theory whether Christy intended it or not.
granite version in Greenville

This painting, like the Signing of the Constitution painting, is a romanticized scene and the events took place over a period of time. In Greeneville's case, these negotiations occurred over the first eight months of 1795 and then signed by representatives on August 3rd. So it is possible that many of the men depicted here were never present together and certainly not like this.

Incidentally, there is a less idealized contemporary oil painting of the 1795 events that was created by an unknown artist but believed to be one of Wayne's officers present at the proceedings. This one is displayed at the Chicago History Museum. This depiction is certainly much more barren than Christy's.

Happy birthday 146th birthday Howard Chandler Christy. Thanks for giving back some of your talents to represent Ohio.

Additional info:
Christy at the unveiling
You can zoom in on these to get a better look:
Working copy info in Garst Museum
Final version info in Ohio Statehouse