The Capitol Dome

2018 Dome 55.1

Issue link:

Contents of this Issue


Page 20 of 59

19 painters and a bucket-list destination for steamboat tourists. Through his brief contact with Leslie, and under the mentorship of Robert Weir, Eastman devel- oped a broad knowledge of the history of art. In 1836 Eastman published a treatise on topo- graphical drawing 4 that was adopted as a textbook for the academy. In it he describes a method for projecting map data into pictorial form (fig. 5). He certainly would have known of Thomas Cole and seen William Guy Wall's Hudson River Portfolio. Eastman would have met many of the prominent artists who visited Weir at West Point between 1833 and 1841. Eastman was elected to the National Academy of Design in 1838, so he must have made a favorable impression on New York City cultural elites. To merit such an honor required more than skill and technique. Eastman must also have known the works of Claude Lorrain, Canaletto, Joseph M. W. Turner, and John Constable, whose studio and legacy had been entrusted to the care of Eastman's for- mer superior, Charles Robert Leslie. He would have encountered compositions by these artists, mostly in the form of prints. During his years as a teacher at West Point, Eastman also would have had access to popular books on drawing, such as Fielding Lucas's Progressive Drawing-Book (1825) and Rembrandt Peale's Graphics (1834). The practice of drawing in the nineteenth century was regarded very differently than it is in the twenty- first. Today drawing is presumed to be confined to crea- tive activity by those possessing an extraordinary talent for visual art. In the years preceding the invention of photography and computer-assisted design and texting, the famous education reformer Horace Mann argued that drawing was "an essential Industrial Skill" and even "a moral force." 5 It was a central component in a universal education. In the words of Rembrandt Peale, "Writing is nothing else than drawing the forms of let- ters. Draw ing is little more than writing the forms of objects . . . only a few peculiarly talented, may succeed in becoming proficient in the higher departments of drawing or painting, yet every one, without any genius but application, may learn the simple elements of this art in a degree sufficient for the most useful purposes." 6 During the nineteenth century, most literate people could draw as well as they could write. Seth Eastman is an extraordinary figure, even in his own time, because his work spans the divide between science and poetry, engineering and the fine arts. Having mastered mechan- ical drawing, architectural rendering, and cartography, he also excelled in the fine arts of drawing and painting. easTman, The indians, and The army In the fall of 1839 Eastman exhibited his work at the Apollo Gallery in New York City. Early the next year he was shipped off to fight Seminoles in Florida, where he contracted malaria. After recovering in Norfolk, Virginia, he was assigned to Fort Snelling as post com- mandant. During his first tour of duty there, a decade earlier (1830–3 2), Eastman had married "Stands Sacred," the teenage daughter of "Cloud Man," a Dakota chief. Their union produced a daughter. When Eastman was recalled to West Point in 1833, the marriage was dis- solved, but he arranged for the support of his indige- nous family. In 1835, Eastman married the 17-year-old daughter of an army surgeon at West Point. When they moved to Fort Snelling, he and his new bride had spe- cial access to the Native American community. Mary Henderson Eastman gathered stories and wrote a popu- lar book about Dacotah myths, customs, and folkways, which Seth Eastman illustrated. Dacotah, or Life and Legends of the Sioux Around Fort Snelling, first pub- lished in 1849, is cited as one of the principal sources for Henry Wadsworth Longfellow's epic poem, The Fig. 5. Eastman included this "Map of Fort Putnam" in his Treatise on Topographical Drawing. THE CAPITOL DOME

Articles in this issue

Archives of this issue

view archives of The Capitol Dome - 2018 Dome 55.1