An Unlikely Source of Inspiration
One of the things I most want to do about Lewis and Clark interpretation is examine the themes and meanings of all the amazing public commemorative art--the statues, murals, and billboards, as well as the art and music (and dance) used in museums, roadside interpretive signs, and reenactments.
The problem is that I have no training as an art historian or any other kind of analyst of the arts (except for a smidgeon of experience teaching about the arts in my anthropology classes), and so must learn as I go. Thus, I was delighted to find this little book on Civil War commemorative art by Thomas J. Brown (2004). Its concepts and ideas are perfectly transferable to examining how the arts are used to commemorate any historical event.
A very helpful book by Professor Brown, historian at the University of South Carolina.
Most if not all the books and exhibits I've seen about "Lewis and Clark art" feature oil paintings or watercolors of scenes from the expedition or portraits of individual members, often by a single artist. These books and exhibits demonstrate a very limited and, let's face it, snooty definition of art, excluding murals, quilts, children's drawings, lamp post banners, events posters, decorative architectural features, any manner of sign, even "fine art" statuary, not to mention music and the performing arts. I, by contrast, want to look at these things through the anthropologist's inclusive eye.
One other thing the author does that gives me all sorts of ideas is include speeches, newspaper articles, and commentary related to the various public statues and so forth. Some of these are remarks by historical figures made at the unveiling of these works. Fascinating! It's especially interesting to see why some people criticize certain pieces, for example, a statue of Abraham Lincoln installed in London that makes him look overly awkward and disheveled, or a statue that supposedly commemorates the end of slavery by showing an abject black man kneeling at and almost kissing Lincoln's feet.
What might we say about the images and themes in this colorful Kansas City mural?
So now I will be looking for textual commentary that accompanies the works I have photographed or will soon visit. Thomas Brown's book has given me a wealth of new ideas and I am excited about going in this new direction.
[Photo of KC mural by K. Dahl, copyright 2005.]