Drawing on the Susquehanna :
Four Centuries of Artistic Inspiration and Commerce

 

Curated by Rob Evans

Page 1:
Curator's Statement
Page 2:  
1600 - 1830
Page 3:  
1830 - 1850     
Page 4:  
1850 - 1899
Page 5:  
1900 - present

 

 

Timothy Barr (b. 1957)

Petroglyphs at Safe Harbor

oil on panel, 2018

collection of "Visions of the Susquehanna Art Collection,

" Susquehanna National Heritage Area

The First Artists of the Susquehanna

 

The first true artists of the Susquehanna were the Native American inhabitants living in its valley, including the Algonquins and Susquehannocks, who settled in the area centuries before the first European explorers reached its shores. The landscape they knew was vastly different than today: mountains covered in great expanses of virgin chestnut and pine forests, teaming with wild elk, moose, bison and huge flocks of Passenger Pigeons and parrots, the shallow river overflowing with Shad.

 

Although their culture and civilization is long gone, displaced by European (and later American) settlement and exploitation of the landscape, the legacy of their art remains in the form of the numerous petroglyphs that can be found on rocks rising out of the Susquehanna River. Dating back as many as 1,000 years, the petroglyphs serve as a link to their lost ancient culture. 

The lower Susquehanna River boasts the highest concentration of petroglyphs in the Northeast. Within a 23-mile stretch running through southern Lancaster County to just below the Mason-Dixon Line, the river is home to what is estimated to be more than 1,000 separate carvings at 10 sites.  The large variety of images include snake forms; bird, bear, deer and elk tracks; human footprints; and animal, thunderbird and human figures; some seeming descriptive or functional, and others likely serving a ceremonial, ritualistic or more spiritual purpose.

As part of the 1880 Second Geological Survey of Pennsylvania, artists were dispatched to record a number of these "sculptured rocks" at the "Bald Friars" site along the lower Susquehanna below the Maryland line. Hydroelectric projects constructed on the Susquehanna in the 1900s, resulted in many petroglyph sites being either submerged or removed for preservation purposes. The Pennsylvania Historical Commission (PHC) salvaged some petroglyphs in the 1930s, before construction of the Safe Harbor Dam flooded some of the sites.

General View of the "Bald Friars" Sculptured Rocks in

the Susquehanna River

Lithographic reproduction of a drawing from the

Geology of Lancaster County by Persifor Frazier,

published by the Board of Commissioners for the 2nd

Geological Survey of Pennsylvania in 1880

Although early European contact with Native Americans was documented with decorations on maps and a few illustrations in the journals of explorers, no visual imagery exists, created prior to the Europeans' arrival, depicting life on the shores of the Susquehanna, other than the pictographic imagery and symbols found in the petroglyphs. Two centuries later, Joshua Shaw, one of America's first landscape painters, created a number of romanticized imagined depictions of Native American life from this time period, including his large canvas On the Susquehanna (in the collection of the Boston Museum of Fine Arts), portraying their peaceful co-existence with nature amidst a vast wilderness.

 

 

 

Joshua Shaw (1776 - 1860)

On the Susquehanna

oil on canvas, 1839

Museum of Fine Arts, Boston (not in the exhibit)

Native Inhabitants and Early Settlers - A Clash of Cultures

 

The earliest recorded contact between Europeans and the Native Americans of Pennsylvania occurred in 1608 when English explorer Captain John Smith first sailed into the Chesapeake Bay and lower Susquehanna River Valley and encountered the Susquehannocks. By this time, however, the Susquehannocks were already utilizing iron and copper implements as well as glass beads acquired through the fur trade with the French, Dutch, and Swedes who, for much of the 17th century, competed for domination of trade with Native Americans.

 

Smith created the first detailed map of the Chesapeake Region and lower Susquehanna Valley. His acclaimed map of Virginia, published in 1612, remained in active use for seven decades and was widely copied and updated. Smith's map resulted in the opening of this part of North America to European exploration, settlement and trade.

The version of the map in this exhibit, published in Germany in 1627 by Matthaus Merian the Elder, appeared in part 13 of Theodore de Bry's book "Grand Voyages, Dreyzehender Theil Americae," and was based on the sixth state of Smith's map. De Bry's book offered Europeans some of their first visual representations of North America.

In addition to the accurate location of more than 200 Native American settlements, the map also chronicles the first European contact with the Susquehannock people, prominently depicting an image of a Susquehannock Warrior based on Smith's first hand descriptions. He was no doubt impressed by these "gyant-like people" dressed in the skins of bears and wolves, some with the heads or paws still attached.

 

Matthaus Merian the Elder (1593 - 1650)

John Smith Map of Virginia

From Theodore De Bry's "Grand Voyages"

copper plate engraving with hand coloring, 1627

One of the earliest images portraying the Susquehanna River Valley was an illustration which appeared in "A New and Unknown World: A Description of America" by Dutch explorer, missionary, and theologian Arnoldus Montanus in 1671. The copper plate engraving depicts a view of a Susquehannock Fort in what would likely today be the lower stretch of the Susquehanna in southern Pennsylvania.

 

The page included here is from the German translation version of that book published in 1673 by Jacob Meurs .

 

Although he likely based his book on descriptions and anecdotes from explorers who had traveled there, Montanus never visited the New World, but instead borrowed indiscriminately, mixing invented and actual details and interchanging characteristics of native cultures from both American continents and from Africa (as seen here with the palm trees, cattle and other exaggerated and inaccurate embellishments). As a result his  book contains numerous errors and fantastic misconceptions about the people and animals of the Americas. Nonetheless, it became a standard work in Europe, widely translated and read for many years.

 

 

Arnoldus Montanus (1625 - 1683)

Sasquesahanok

From "A New and Unknown World: A Description of America"

copper plate engraving with letterpress, 1673

By the 1730s, explorers and traders ventured further upstream and to the west, following Native American pathways through the forests and along the river and its tributaries, establishing forts and trading posts such as the one built by Englishman John Harris at the current site of Harrisburg, PA. Despite the best efforts of Quaker William Penn to establish a colony founded on religious freedom and cooperation between colonists and Native Americans, The Susquehanna Valley and much of Pennsylvania's frontier became a flashpoint for recurring quarrels between colonists and the Indians upon whose lands they encroached, leading to intermittent clashes and escalating animosity.

 

 

 

After Abner Reeder (1766 - 1841)

An Attempt to Burn John Harris at the Present Site of

Harrisburg in the year 1720

lithograph with hand coloring, 1839

 

The French and Indian Wars, followed by Pontiac's Rebellion, all contributed to an increasingly volatile environment culminating in 1763 with the brutal Paxton Boys Massacre of the last surviving Susquehannocks sheltered at the Lancaster, PA courthouse. Word of this tragic event reverberated throughout the Indian nations, leading to continued violent uprisings including the famous Wyoming Massacre of 1778 near present day Wilkes Barre along the Susquehanna. The following year, during the Revolutionary War, the Sullivan Expedition, ordered by George Washington, carried out a scorched earth campaign, methodically destroying Indian villages and crops throughout the middle and upper Susquehanna Valley, forcing nearly all the remaining Native populations to permanently migrate north of the border into Canada.

 

 

 

Artist Unknown

Events of Indian History. Massacre of the Indians at Lancaster by the Paxton Boys in 1763

From Events in Indian History by James Wimer,

lithography by Thomas Sinclair 

lithograph, 1841

 

 

But for a few exceptions, little artistic activity depicting the Susquehanna can be found during the 18th Century, no doubt in part due to the dangerous nature of travel during this period of unrest and violence between the colonists and Indians. Still, the repercussions of the tragic events that transpired in the region left a lasting impression and continued to interest artists and historians into the next century, particulalrly the Wyoming Massacre, which was prominently featured in the 1809 poem "Gertrude of Wyoming" by renowned Scottish poet Thomas Campbell. His romantic poem, featuring a love affair tragically disrupted by the massacre, achieved worldwide acclaim and various versions were illustrated by a number of prominent artists including Joseph Mallord William Turner.

 

 

After Alonzo Chappel (1766 - 1841)

Massacre of Wtoming

From Battles of the United States by Henry B. Dawson

Published by Johnson, Fry & Co., New York.

engraving, 1859

 

 

After Victor Nehlig  (1830 - 1909)

Gertrude of Wyoming

From June 1872 issue of The Aldine

wood engraving, 1872

 

 

After Joseph Mallord William Turner  (1755 - 1851)

The Waterfall - Gertrude of Wyoming

From "Poetical Works of Thomas Campbell"

engraving, 1837

A New Nation: Economic Expansion and the First American Publications

 

Once the smoke cleared following the Indian wars and the American Revolution, a new era of prosperity and economic expansion took place in the fledgling nation and in the Susquehanna Valley as well. The war had given some prominence to the Susquehanna river shed - militias moved across the river in ferries and along its shores during key campaigns of the Revolutionary War and the Susquehanna river town of Columbia was at one point considered a possible site for the nation's capitol, coming within just a few votes in Congress of that honor. With the Native population displaced far to the north, safe travel led to roads, bridges, canals, railroads and eventually villages and towns springing up along its banks. Eventually artists ventured out to capture the American landscape, and two of the most prominent were British artist George Beck and British North American artist Benjamin West, both of whom were influential in the eventual formulation of an American School of painting. From the mid-18th century to early 19th century each of these artists created images of the Susquehanna based on both observation and memory. 

 

 

 

 

George Beck (1748 - 1812)

McCall's Ferry on the Susquehanna

watercolor and gouache on paper, circa 1800

Private Collection (not in the exhibit)

 

 

Benjamin West (1738 - 1820)

A View on the Susquehanna

oil on canvas, 1767

collection of Winterthur Museum,

Winterthur, DE (not in the exhibit)

 

As the east coast cities of Philadelphia, Baltimore, New York and Boston grew, so did industry, including new publishing firms which produced the first American newspapers and periodicals such as The Columbian Magazine and The Port Folio. These magazines were the first to include prose and poetry, as well as engraved illustrations, many of which depicted the Susquehanna and its tributaries.

 

 

 

Artist unknown

A View on the Juniata River

From August 1788 issue of "The Columbian Magazine"

copper plate engraving, 1788

 

 

Cover of the September 1787

issue of "The Columbian Magazine"

(not in the exhibit)

 

 

Joseph Yeager (1792 - 1859)

The Great Bend of the Susquehanna River

From April 1811 issue of "The Port Folio"

engraving, 1811

 

 

Artist unknown

Scene on the Susquehanna

Illustration for "The Foresters" by Alexander Wilson 

From August 1809 issue of "The Port Folio"

engraving, 1809

 

 

William Strickland (1788 - 1854)

View on the Susquehanna

From December 1815 issue of "The Port Folio"

aquatint, 1815

 

 

Artist unknown

Lower Falls of Solomon's Creek

From November1809 issue of "The Port Folio"

engraving, 1809

As the American publishing industry grew, artists found opportunities to have their works published in the form of lithographs and engravings in various print portfolios, magazines, newspapers and books. Images of the American picturesque landscape, including the Susquehanna Valley, appeared regularly as more and more prominent artists, both from America and abroad, took advantage of these opportunities to showcase their work to a broad audience. Lavishly bound annual "gift books" like "The Token" featured prose by emerging American authors such as Longfellow and Hawthorne, as well as high end engravings by some of the nation's best known artists of the day including Thomas Doughty and Thomas Cole who would eventually shape the direction of American landscape painting.  In addition to American artists, the Susquehanna also attracted the eyes of European artists such as British engraver George Cooke and French naturalist/artist Jacques Gérard Milbert whose lithographic portfolio "Itinéraire Pittoresque du Fleuve Hudson" published in 1828 featured a portage scene on the Susquehanna alongside numerous images of the Hudson River. 

 

 

 

George Cooke (1781 - 1834)

Wright's Ferry on the

Susquehanna, Pennsylvania

engraving with aquatint, 1812

Jacques Gérard Milbert (1766 - 1840)

Machine for the Portage

on the Susquehanna 

From Milbert's "Itinéraire Pittoresque

du Fleuve Hudson" 

lithograph chine colle, 1828

 

 

After Thomas Doughty (1793 - 1856)

Banks of the Juniata

From "The Token"

engraving, 1830

Some of the first published art instruction books began to appear in America around this time, including "Lucas' Progressive Drawing Book," published by Baltimore based publisher and cartographer Fielding Lucas in 1827. This luxurious book, commanding a hefty price of $12 (roughly $300 today), was considered  one of the finest art manuals printed in the United States during the first half of the nineteenth century. It featured a number of Susquehanna images demonstrating compositional devices for the landscape artist that would later be utilized by the young generation of American landscape painters emerging at the time, including many of the future stars of the Hudson River School. The book remained popular and in general use for decades. 

Although published by Lucas, the book was actually the brainchild of John H. B. Latrobe, who wrote the text and provided watercolors for the illustrations under the pseudonym E. van Blon. The three-volume book contained a total of thirty-eight intaglio plates, of which seventeen were aquatints engraved by John Hill, who specialized in the medium. Thirteen of these were colored by hand, apparently before they were bound with the text for publishing, with five being images of the Susquehanna and Juniata Rivers.

 

 

After John H. B. Latrobe (1803 - 1891)

Dark Foreground - View on the Susquehanna

From Fielding Lucas' "Progressive Drawing Book"

hand colored engraving with aquatint, 1827

 

 

After John H. B. Latrobe (1803 - 1891)

Sky in Stormy Weather -

Falls of the Susquehanna Above Columbia

From Fielding Lucas' "Progressive Drawing Book"

hand colored engraving with aquatint, 1827

 

 

After John H. B. Latrobe (1803 - 1891)

Twilight -

Passage of the Juniata Through the Warrior Mountain

From Fielding Lucas' "Progressive Drawing Book"

hand colored engraving with aquatint, 1827

(not in the exhibit)

 

 

After John H. B. Latrobe (1803 - 1891)

Clear Sky -

Turkey Hill on the Susquehanna

From Fielding Lucas' "Progressive Drawing Book"

hand colored engraving with aquatint, 1827

(not in the exhibit)

 

 

After John H. B. Latrobe (1803 - 1891)

Light Foreground -

Susquehanna Above Havre de Grace

From Fielding Lucas' "Progressive Drawing Book"

hand colored engraving with aquatint, 1827

(not in the exhibit)

© 2018 by Rob Evans