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American Art History: Ammi Phillips (Essay Sample)


Answer the following questions attached please. Thank you =)




1. What is the name of this painting?  Who is the painter and what is his background?


Ammi Phillips (1788-1865, American), The Strawberry Girl.




2.  What is this object and what is its name?  Who made it?  Discuss its particular importance for Southern slaves.


Harriet Powers (1837-1911, American), detail from the“Bible quilt.”  (“Adam and Eve Naming the Animals.”)]




3.  What is the name of this painting?  Who painted it?  What group of painters did he belong to?  What were the members of this group trying to convey in terms of religion and preservation?


Thomas Cole The Oxbow (View from Mount Holyoke—The Connecticut River Near Northampton after a Thunderstorm). 1836







4.  What is the name of this painting?  Who painted it?  What were some of the concerns that this painter had about Native American tribes and how did he try to remedy this?


Federal Style

George Catlin (1796-1872, American), Buffalo Bull’s Back Fat, Blackfeet.


SHORT INFORMATIONS ( Feel free to search addition information elsewhere)


1.“The Strawberry Girl”, is one of the most beloved of American folk art paintings.  Ammi Phillips was an itinerant portrait painter who worked along the Massachusetts-Connecticut border and New York. More than 500 portraits have been attributed to him.


2.“The Bible Quilt” by Harriet Powers (and a detail from the upper left corner of the quilt).  Powers, like many slave women, were often trained as expert seamstresses.  Originally in Africa, most of the textiles were made by men. Yet when slaves were brought to the United States, their work was divided according to Western patriarchal standards and women took over the tradition of textile arts.  In Africa, the need to be able to recognize people from far distances was crucial for warring tribes and traveling hunting parties. This textile tradition of using large shapes and bright colors was thus carried on.


Harriet Powers’ quilts, of which there are two known, are among the most famous and revered works of art in the history of American folk art.  They were created after she was freed from slavery following the Civil War.  She used traditional African appliqué techniques to record local historical legends, Bible stories, and astronomical phenomena.  Her quilts were first seen at a crafts fair by an artist, a Southern white woman named Jennie Smith. Ms. Smith, who kept a diary and upon first meeting Harriet, recalled -- "I found the owner, a negro woman, who lived in the country on a little farm whereon she and her husband made a respectable living. She is about sixty five years old, of a clear ginger cake color, and is a very clean and interesting woman who loves to talk of her 'old miss' and life 'befo de wah.' " At first Harriet Powers was unwilling to sell her quilts to Ms. Smith. Yet when she and her family came into financial difficulty she agreed to sell them. Ms. Smith wrote, " Last year I sent her word that I would buy it if she still wanted to dispose of it. She arrived one afternoon in front of my door in an ox-cart with the precious burden in her lap encased in a clean flour sack, which was still enveloped in a crocus sack. She offered it for ten dollars, but I told her I only had five to give. After going out consulting with her husband she returned and said 'Owin to de hardness of de times, my ole man lows I'd better tech hit.' [“Owing to the hardness of the times, my old man allows I’d better take it.”] Not being a new woman she obeyed. After giving me a full description of each scene with great earnestness, she departed but has been back several times to visit the darling offspring of her brain. She was only in measure consoled for its loss when I promised to save her all my scraps." Although it was certainly painful for Mrs. Powers to sell her quilts, in doing so she thus unknowingly preserved them for future generations.


Often these quilts were used as a kind of map for signposts along the Underground Railroad.  The Underground Railroad was neither underground nor a railroad, but a secret network of safe houses and antislavery activists--black, white, and Native American--who helped slaves escape to freedom. Often the slaves, weakened by hunger, traveled at night to avoid detection, using the North Star as a compass. Every home that welcomed runaways (called “safe houses”) and every individual who offered food, clothing, or other assistance could be considered part of the Underground Railroad. Though never formally organized, tens of thousands of slaves, aided by more than 3,200 railroad "workers," escaped to the northern states, Canada, Texas, Mexico, and through Florida to the Caribbean. The activity of the Underground Railroad reached a peak from 1830 to 1860, though it was operating as early as the 1500s, from the time the first African captives were brought to Spanish colonies in the New World. Much of the railroad's history was passed down orally through generations. Not only were many slaves who made the trek illiterate, but those who aided them didn't write about it, or destroyed their records because they feared detection.


How were the quilts used?  The quilts often contained symbols that would be copied in the doorway of a safe house.  For example, look at Harriet Powers’ quilt again.  In the lower left corner, there are three symbols (which are probably astronomical symbols).  These same symbols might be painted on a doorway or a barn that served as a safe house.  Escaping slaves then knew that this house was a safe place for them to rest or hide on their way to freedom.


The term Underground Railroad may have originated when a slave, Tice Davids, fled from Kentucky and took up refuge with John Rankin, a white abolitionist in Ripley, Ohio. Davids' owner chased him to the Ohio River, but Davids managed to disappear without a trace. His owner was left bewildered, wondering  if the slave had "gone off on some underground road."




3.    Landscape Painting:

There has always been a unique quality about the American landscape.  Our connection with the land was as responsible for the emerging national character of the Americans as the democratic sociopolitical system we have devised.  Unlike Europe, the United States seemed to have unlimited land available to the common person.  As new states or territories joined the Union, the federal government became the first proprietor of the land—and then sold parcels of it cheaply to anyone who would move in and homestead it. 


So a kind of romance grew out of the land, especially as the mood for westward expansion grew.  On the East Coast, Americans became nostalgic for a wilderness they knew they were losing to progress as forests were cleared, factories were built, bridges crossed rivers, and trains cut through the landscape.   


The first group of American landscape painters emerged in the 1820s, known as the Hudson River School.  The Hudson River School was an informal group of painters, led by Thomas Cole, who painted images of America’s wilderness primarily in New York’s Hudson River Valley as well as in the westward expansion.  The dramatic, lofty, and romantic landscapes suggested communication with God through nature.   An American art journal called The Crayon, published between 1855 and 1861, reinforced the Hudson River School painters and promoted the idea that nature was a healing place for the human spirit. Hudson River painters, including Asher Durand, contributed to this publication as did men of literature such as Ralph Waldo Emerson and William Cullen Bryant, promoting the idea that nature and God were one. 


The Hudson River School of American painters acknowledged the unique landscape of America while questioning the direction of America as a civilization.  They used symbols of encroaching civilization in expansive landscape scenes such as broken branches or tree stumps in the foreground of their paintings.  In this way, the Hudson River School artists entered a plea for the preservation of the landscape as well as the preservation of moral behavior in an increasingly industrialized environment.  Thomas Cole believed that nature reinforced morals, and his paintings gave us a sense that the cooperative spirit of America was giving way to a more hardened and competitive society.  His paintings were imbued with a religious and moral content, which were called “moralizing landscapes.”  He believed that the viewer could perceive in his paintings the glory of God in a splendid sunrise, His majesty in a great mountain range, or His wrath in the violence of a thunderstorm.  The trunk of a sawed-off tree trunk was a symbol of human intervention and the beginning of the end of the holy wilderness.    



Look at the beautiful landscape paintings, Thomas Cole was considered the leader of the Hudson River School.  Through his “Course of the Empire” paintings (five allegorical paintings of the rise and fall of an imaginary state, one of which is illustrated on page 201 in your book), Cole warned that America was on a course of destruction like many previous empires.  There was a sense that the America of early settlement and cooperative virtue was passing away, to be replaced by a harder, more competitive, get-and-spend society.



4. Natural History:

As Manifest Destiny took its position over the expanding westward movement, many condemned the Native Americans as a burden to get rid of, and others felt conflicted about the destruction of the people and the land.  George Catlin was among the first to make Native Americans the subject of his art in a sense of the preservation of their looks and culture (since he felt they were “doomed”).  He was fascinated by the Native American artifacts at Peale’s Museum in Philadelphia.  Although trained as a lawyer, he soon gave up that career for art.  In 1830, he headed west in order to document the lives and customs of Native Americans.  He produced over 500 scenes of Native American life.


"One day in Philadelphia, while [Catlin] was casting about for a higher purpose in life than portraiture, inspiration visited him." (Dippie, p. 10). The artist saw a group of Native Americans who were on their way to Washington, D.C. Catlin himself described the scene. "A delegation of some ten or fifteen noble and dignified-looking Indians, from the wilds of the 'Far West,' suddenly arrived in the city, arrayed in all their classic beauty--with shield and helmet-with tunic and manteau-tinted and tasseled off, exactly for the painter's palette. In silent and stoic dignity, these lords of the forest strutted about the city for a few days, wrapped in their pictorial robes, with their brows plumed with the quills of the war-eagle. ... Man, in the simplicity and loftiness of his nature, unrestrained and unfettered by disguises of art, is surely the most beautiful model for the painter--and the country from which he hails is unquestionably the best study or school of the arts in the world...and the history and customs of such a people, preserved by pictorial illustrations, are themes worthy the life-time of one man, and nothing short of the loss of my life shall prevent me from visiting their country, and becoming their historian...I set out on my arduous and perilous undertaking with the determination of reaching, ultimately, every tribe of Indians on the Continent of North America, and of bringing home faithful portraits of their principal personages, and full notes of their character and history. I designed, also, to procure their costumes, and a complete collection of their manufactures and weapons, and to perpetuate them in a gallery unique, for the use and instruction of future ages." (Catlin, Letters and Notes, cited in McCracken, p. 24)


Grade Course:
Tutor’s Name:
(21, October, 2010)

American Art History.
The first picture is a painting called, the strawberry girl. The painter is Ammi Phillips. The artist was amongst the early itinerant artists who started painting portraits during the ancient times up to the mid-1840s when the technological advances in photography rendered their artistic work absolute. Ammi Phillips worked along Massachusetts-Connecticut border and New York for a period of more than 50 years. He advertised his work for the first time in 1809.In his profession Phillips made use of features such as props, standard poses and clothing in his artistic work which was symbols for values he held. He was also a businessman.
The second picture is an ancient work of art, “Bible Quilt”, It was called, “Adam and Eve naming the animals,” the It was made by a slave woman called Harriet Powers’.
The quilts were used by the southern slaves as a kind of Map for Signposts along their Underground Railroad which was a secret network of save houses and anti-slavery activists who were blacks, whites and Native Americans who helped slaves escape to freedom. These quilts contained symbols that would be copied either in the doorway of a safe house or a barn where escaping slaves would recognize the house as a safe house for them to hide on their way to freedom. The quilt therefore forms a great history of the southern slave history in the ancient America since they played a big role in the liberation of the slavery captives to their freedom (Dippie, 1990).
The third picture is a painting called, “the Oxbow” it was painted by Thomas Cole. He belonged to a group of American painters called, the Hudson River School whose paintings ideally portrayed nature in a realistic and detailed form. At the time Hudson valley and the rest of the American land was being allocated to individuals so the artists tried to match agriculture to the rest of the wilderness which was being taken away. The artists in the Hudson River School believed that the American landscape formed part of nature which inevitably manifested the presence of...
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