Two Great American – and Four Great Freedoms

On January 6, 1941, with an eye towards the London blitz and German air raids, President Franklin Roosevelt gave a powerful speech in which he articulated his vision for a postwar world founded on four basic human freedoms. The speech was to encourage America to end its isolationism policy and join World War II. Norman Rockwell (1894-1978) was inspired by these words and visualized these freedoms in his own unique small-town neighborly way.

“In the future days, which we seek to make secure, we look forward to a world founded upon four essential human freedoms. “

“The first is freedom of speech and expression–everywhere in the world.”

Norman Rockwell, Freedom of Speech, 1943.

“The second is freedom of every person to worship God in his own way–everywhere in the world.”

Norman Rockwell, Freedom of Worship, 1943

“The third is freedom from want–which, translated into world terms, means economic understandings which will secure to every nation a healthy peacetime life for its inhabitants-everywhere in the world.”

Norman Rockwell, Freedom From Want, 1943

“The fourth is freedom from fear–which, translated into world terms, means a world-wide reduction of armaments to such a point and in such a thorough fashion that no nation will be in a position to commit an act of physical aggression against any neighbor–anywhere in the world.”

Norman Rockwell, Freedom from Want, 1943.

Two much loved, admired, and respected Americans – what an enduring legacy they have left for us to reflect upon.

Florida Highwaymen

In segregated 1950 and 60s, African-American artists were few and far between – they had very little chance of getting a formal art education, and an even lesser chance of being shown in a gallery. It was this very lack of opportunity which gave rise to a unique painting style and an art collective which came to be known as the Florida Highwaymen.

The self-taught Highwaymen worked in the Fort Pierce and Vero Beach regions of Florida and painted the diverse and vibrant ecology of the region in their own distinct style. They painted fiery red sunsets, banyan trees laden with Spanish moss, beaches, marshes, aquamarine waters, stunning palms and poinciana tress, birds in flight– all in dazzling colors, and got their name by selling these works to tourists driving along Florida’s Atlantic Coast.

Harold Newton, Poinciana

The Highwaymen had 26 artists, with the two leaders being Alfred Hair and Harold Newton. They produced large quantities of art which they sold inexpensively to day trippers and tourists. Producing large quantities of art using an assembly line method led to a distinct painting style which included quick impressionistic style brushstrokes. Despite the assembly style method of painting the same subject, the artists added unique details to each work.

In all the Highwaymen made over 200,000 paintings which show an older Florida – the pre-Disney and Universal Florida of citrus groves and farms. At the same time they show the Florida of the Jim Crow era – when a group of defiant and talented artists worked outside the system and found independence and agency through art.

Morse's Kunstkammer

I am always fascinated by paintings that are paintings of a gallery or a viewing room – they are basically a painting of multiple paintings (similar to Rockwell’s Picasso vs. Sargent). Two of the best examples of this genre, called kunstkammer (German for “cabinet of curiosities”) are Modern Rome and Ancient Rome by Giovanni Paolo Panini (1691 – 1765)

For me the most fascinating kunstkammer painting is Samuel Morse’s (of the telegraph and Morse code fame), Gallery of the Louvre which he painted from 1831 to 1833. Before he connected the two sides of the Atlantic with a telegraphic message, Morse tried to do so with this monumental painting. Morse started his career as a painter and was a well-known portrait artist when he painted this work, primarily for the cultural and artistic education of the American public. Morse and his great friend and author James Fenimore Cooper came up with the idea of this painting to firstly, record the world’s greatest art, and secondly, to introduce young Americans to refined European art.

Samuel Morse’s Gallery in the Louvre 1831-33

The massive 6 by 9 feet painting is of the Salon Caree in the Louvre; its walls Morse lined with some of the world’s most famous art.  In the foreground is Morse himself as he looks at a painting his daughter is working on, and to the back left is Cooper with his wife and daughter.  They are surrounded by brilliant small scale replicas of the works of Leonardo, Titian, Veronese, Tintoretto, Poussin, Claude, Rubens, Rembrandt, and Carvaggio among others. 

Morse arranged the paintings as he wished and probably in some order that he liked them, and altered relative sizes to fit his canvas.  We can see Leonardo’s Mona Lisa and Raphael’s La Belle Jardiniere. At the bottom row of paintings – on either side of Mona Lisa- we see two versions of Christ Carrying the Cross – perhaps Morse wanted to highlight the different ways artists handled the same subject matter.  

What a powerhouse of talent Morse must have been – it’s remarkable, almost incredulous, that his talented artist then went on to invent the single wire telegraph and the Morse Code.

Ragged Old Flag

On this Flag Day, I wanted to honor the flag with this poem by Johnny Cash.

Ragged Old Flag

I walked through a county courthouse square
On a park bench an old man was sitting there
I said, your old courthouse is kinda run down
He said, naw, it'll do for our little town
I said, your old flagpole has leaned a little bit
And that's a ragged old flag you got hanging on it

He said, have a seat, and I sat down
Is this the first time you've been to our little town?
I said, I think it is
He said, I don't like to brag
But we're kinda proud of that ragged old flag

You see, we got a little hole in that flag there when 
Washington took it across the Delaware
And it got powder-burned the night Francis Scott Key
Sat watching it writing say can you see
And it got a bad rip in New Orleans
With Packingham and Jackson tuggin' at its seams

And it almost fell at the Alamo
Beside the texas flag, but she waved on though
She got cut with a sword at Chancellorsville
And she got cut again at Shiloh Hill
There was Robert E. Lee, Beauregard, and Bragg
And the south wind blew hard on that ragged old flag

On Flanders field in World War one
She got a big hole from a Bertha gun
She turned blood red in World War Two
She hung limp and low a time or two
She was in Korea and Vietnam
She went where she was sent by Uncle Sam

She waved from our ships upon the Briny foam
And now they've about quit waving her back here at home
In her own good land here she's been abused 
She's been burned, dishonored, denied, and refused

And the government for which she stands
Is scandalized throughout the land
And she's getting threadbare and wearing thin
But she's in good shape for the shape she's in
'Cause she's been through the fire before
And I believe she can take a whole lot more

So we raise her up every morning
We take her down every night
We don't let her touch the ground and we fold her up right
On second thought, I do like to brag
'Cause I'm mighty proud of that ragged old flag

(Images Courtesy Smithsonian.com, US Govt and War Archives Websites)

An Ode to A City

Patrick Martinez was born and raised in Los Angeles, with a multicultural heritage – he is Filipino, Mexican, and Native American. This gives him a unique persepective and outlook – something that he has translated into his artwork – all of which show that his figers are firmly placed on the pulse of his city and the nation.

He captures the essence of the city and its forgotten nooks and crannies – neon signs from convenience stores, bakeries, and barber shops that tell desparate stories, funeral wreaths for sale on street corners, a shocking pink bogainviilea peeking out from over a fence – all these show up in his mixed media work – and convey messages about forgotten streets and overlooked people.

Martinez has taken very ordinary neon light signs seen in local shops and bars and turned them into meaningful works of art.  In one, the neon sign reads, references German (anti-Nazi) pastor Martin Niemoller’s  (1892 – 1984) well known quote: First they came for the socialists, and I did not speak out Because I was not a Socialist. Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out Because I was not a Trade Unionist. Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out Because I was not a Jew. Then they came for me and there was no one left to speak for me.

Baggage Claim

Only an immigrant, especially one that has left home in a rush can understand the value of baggage. The exhibition Baggage Claims at the Orlando Museum of Art explores the role of baggage in our lives – baggage is the only thing all our immigrant parents brought with them when they came to this country.

South African artist Dan Halter’s large world map made of cheap woven plastic bags – which serve as baggage to many poor people throughout the world -shows more people are displaced today than at any time in world history; all they have is the baggage they left their homes with.  Refugees from Syria are travelling through continents with their baggage, and with the emotional baggage of leaving their homes under such sad circumstances.

Here a pile of suitcases wait patiently on the floor waiting to be picked up by the owners.  Almost all pieces of art in this exhibition were on the floor – as though they had just been left there briefly by the traveler, while taking a break from carrying them.

Cuban artist Yoan Capote’s Nostalgia is a brick filled suitcase – perhaps reminding us of the dangerous voyages the people of Cuba have taken across the seas at the risk of drowning to the bottom of the sea with their heavy baggage. Indian artist Subodh Gupta showcases a common piece a luggage used by the weary traveler – a rolled up mattress that can be unrolled for sleeping on, when the traveler gets tired. 

Portable City Chinese artist, Yin Xiuzhen, shows a suitcase which carries an entire beloved city. Pieces like this make one realize how difficult it is for immigrants and refugees to leave their hometowns, not knowing if they will ever see them again.  The bright and cheerful color of the suitcase shows how much the artist loves her city.