Click on photos to enlarge.

Wednesday, January 18, 2017

Samuel Colman Jr., American Painter

Picturesque Landscape with Rainbow, Samuel Colman
A little over three years ago, I began to write a piece on the American painter, Samuel Colman. In the process I began to encounter paintings which, for all the world, looked to have been done by two different artists, though all were attributed to Samuel Colman (not Coleman). It took me several perplexing minutes to come to the realization that they were, in fact, painted by two different painters. Both had the same first and last names with the strange spelling of the family name, and both painted landscapes. There any similarities ended. One Samuel Colman was British, born in 1780, and whom died in 1845. The other was an American landscape painter born in New York City in 1832. This left me with the quandary as to which one to pursue. I chose the British painter in that his life and work seemed far more interesting than his American counterpart (an opinion I've not changed, by the way).
By the 1860s, the Hudson River was no longer picturesque.
Ships Unloading, New York,
 Samuel Colman
However, on the theory that everyone de-serves a second chance, in once again coming across the work of the American Samuel Colman Jr. today, I've decided to take a closer look at this belated Hudson River School artist from a fresh perspective, not in comparing his work to that of the British artist, but letting it stand on its own merits. In doing so, if we make comparisons, it should be an "apples to apples" judgement, his works compared to other Amer-ican landscape painters. It doesn't take long to see that Samuel Colman Jr. is no Albert Bier-stadt, no Edwin Church, no Thomas Cole, nor Thomas Moran. He does compare favorably with Asher B. Durand whom he's believed to have studied under for a brief period. In act-uality, Colman was second generation Hudson River School at a time when the cutting edge of American landscape painting was moving in-exorably westward along with the American frontier. The fact that we see in his paintings early steamboats on the Hudson (above) indicates that the river had become "civilized" and on the verge of being industrialized.

Ausable River, Samuel Colman
Samuel Colman was born in Portland, Maine. His family moved to New York when he was a young child. His father, a well-known bookseller and an established dealer of fine engravings, had a clientele of artists and authors that provided an early exposure to the New York City art scene which sparked Colman’s interest in painting. At the age of eighteen, the aspiring artist began to develop his technique (probably under the instruction of Durand). Colman gained an appreciation for the natural beauty of the American landscape as his artistic approach advanced so quickly he was elected an associate of the National Academy of Design in 1854. The Hudson River, Lake George and the White Mountains were all sources of inspiration for the artist during the 1850s.

Colman in the 1860s and shortly before his death in 1920.
To his credit, Colman recognized the migrating trend in landscape art as it moved westward (though perhaps belatedly). After the Civil War, the art of watercolor became popular. Colman mastered this highly portable medium then took it westward, using it to create studies for later works in oil, though in many cases, his watercolors hold up quite well as works of art in their own right. His Late November in a Santa Barbara Canyon, California (above), has a spontaneous vigor found in the work of few western artists at the time, demonstrating a sensitivity for the minutiae of the west alongside the rugged grandeur seen in his Solomon's Temple, Colorado (upper image), painted during a later trip west in 1888.

American landscape art and artists moved westward after the Civil War.
In 1860, Colman left the country to participate in an important rite of passage for many 19th-century American painters: the Grand Tour. Although his wanderlust first led him to France, he was later drawn to less-frequented areas throughout Spain and Morocco, becoming one of the first American artists to visit these exotic locales. In the years that followed, Colman became an inveterate traveler, many of his works depicting scenes from foreign cities and ports. After he made his first trip abroad to France and Spain in 1860–1861, he returned for a more extensive four-year European tour in the early 1870s in which he spent much time in Mediterranean locales. Colman depicted the architectural features he encountered on his travels: cityscapes, castles, bridges, arches, and aqueducts feature prominently in his paintings of foreign scenes.

Colman found the exotic Mediterranean area even
more enticing than the American west.
Colman's art became more diverse late in his life. By the 1880s he was working extensively as an interior designer, collaborating with his friend, Louis Comfort Tiffany on the design of Mark Twain's Hartford home, and later on numerous Fifth Avenue beaux-arts and Victorian mansions. Colman also became a major collector of Asian decorative objects, while also writing two books on geometry and art focusing primarily on art theory. His, Nature’s Harmonic Unity: a Treatise on its Relation to Proportional Form, was published in 1912, while the second book, Proportional Form, was released five days before his death in 1920. Colman’s obituary in the New York Times describes him as a “foremost American landscape painter and noted etcher."

Along the Arno, Florence, Italy
ca. 1875, Samuel Colman


Tuesday, January 17, 2017

Jacob Collins

Jacob Collins Teaching a Class
We talk a lot about art, everything from how to draw a head without first starting with a circle, to the existentialism of "art for art's sake." However, once we get past the first few formative years when art instruction is deemed to be so critical that parents and teachers alike tiptoe about as if afraid to step on the young art student's fragile egos, lest we destroy their creative impulses for life; we tend not to give much thought to "what" and "how" art is taught in the upper level classrooms of high schools and colleges. It's as if all that had been settled more than a hundred years ago when such instruction became commonplace in public institutions of higher learning. In any case, we often simply consider such advanced pedagogic philosophy as of little importance in the training of young, college-level students and post-graduates. Educators tend to think of such individuals as too "set in their ways" to absorb such instructional influences.
Alumni of New York's Art Students League, ca. 1950.
Yet our branch of history is full of young artists (above)whose style, content, and thought processes have been radically altered by outstanding teachers with exceptional influence over their protégés, whose pondering minds are much more open than we might think. Along the same line, another factor in upper-level art education which we don't often consider is that, just as in politics, we find both conservatives and progressives. Also, as in politics, there is a pedagogic spectrum binding these two extremes. Perhaps that's why colleges reward graduates with "degrees." To oversimplify somewhat, conservative art schools place heavy emphasis on skill development in working with live models, plein-air painting, and three-dimensional sources. Progressive schools emphasize the creative thought processes, and virtually unlimited sources, in producing art designed to move minds, assuming that any necessary art skills have developed or will develop individually as needed. This extreme is message oriented, utilizing often radical new ideas and controversial images to capture the highly limited social attention span. If the results are attractive, even beautiful to behold, so much the better, but that element is usually secondary. Progressives deem beauty to be a fortunate byproduct of creativity. Their art is forward-looking, while conservative art instruction is oriented toward creating art of great beauty at the expense of novelty. Akin to the Pre-Raphaelites of the late 19th-century British art, such instructional philosophy holds the Renaissance as the epitome of man's artistic achievement. Beauty forms an integral part of their definition of art.
The "learn to draw and paint" school of art where ancient beauty
rules and creative genius hopefully evolves as a logical result.
The New York artist, Jacob Collins, might easily be considered the foremost proponent of conservative art instructional philosophy. In fact, he has founded his own art academy (several times), the most recent being the present day Grand Central Atelier (GCA) dating from the 1990s. Although Collins and others might not admit it, conservative art instruction has as its basis a rejection of all that we've come to call Modern Art, which, by inference, is a whole-hearted, exclusionary embrace of Realism. Moreover, that's not just Realism as defined by the work of Corot, Courbet, Millais, and other Frenchmen during the mid-19th-century, but what they term "Classical Realism," as defined by the 16th century masters. As with politics, it's "wishful thinking" in fear of "innovative thinking."

Painting the classically posed nude figure makes up
the bulk of Jacob Collins' work.
Jacob Collins was born in New York City in 1964. Since receiving his Bachelor of Arts degree from Columbia College in 1986, he has studied at the New York Academy of Art, the École Albert Defois, and the Art Students League. He was the founder and director of the Water Street Atelier in Manhattan and has become an extraordinarily respected artist, teacher, and role model in the field of contemporary realism. Admirers credit him with combining a technique reminiscent of the nineteenth-century American realists with a freshness of vision scarcely encountered among today's traditional painters. Collins' works are praised for a rare unions of classic beauty and striking originality, meeting as harmonious equals.

The traditional still-life as seen by Collins
--perfection at the expense of meaning.
Collins studied art at a time when the Modern Art establishment held the reins, relegating representational artists to careers in illustration, or simply to produce their work in the shadows. Critics contend that Collins expresses the idea that art is painting something beautifully. In other words, art is little more than accurate representation. It's not interpretation, and its purpose is not to express feelings, emotions or meanings. Collins' Grand Central Atelier has sought to revive or follow, Renaissance ideals, which means the imitation of reality. So, when he talks about beauty, he doesn't mean the painting of a beautiful subject, but only a beautifully well-painted representation. Problems immediately arise with thise GCA definition and practice of art. GCA artists know how to paint, but they don't know what to paint. They have been taught to accepted the idea that art is anything you paint, any object, or slice of reality, as long as it is beautifully well-painted. Since this is obviously not what art is, and certainly never was for the Old Masters, accepting this view of art does not allow the artist to produce great works of art.

Collins' "Classsical Realism" reduces art to
an assortment of pretty pictures.
For most representational artists, the process of artistic creation begins with a source of inspiration, a photo, or something in the field of vision. It might be an idea that provides an expressive purpose and the source of meaning. Selectivity is thus an important part of the process. The artists selects the elements from whatever source that best satisfy their expressive purpose, then organizes and composes the picture plane to implement that purpose. The better the artist, the more the work of art is a recreation and an interpretation of reality, not a mere copy, as it is for GCA artists. Collins' work reflects this copyist mindset as does, unfortunately, that of his students in their attempt to short-circuit the whole creative process by minimizing the importance of selectivity, eliminating the need for expression, meaning, and interpretation. The result is a banal, mediocre realism that never aspires to anything better. It expresses nothing, means nothing, and reflects nothing.

Mere faces by formula, or sensitive portraits?

Father and son in the studio--
an apt subject ignored.


Monday, January 16, 2017

Thomas Hart Benton's Home

Just the way he left it when he died in 1975
(except for the sign in the front yard).
The street address, 3616 Belleview Avenue, in Kansas City, Missouri, might easily be mistaken for any upper-middle-class home in the city. The house is approximately 7800 square feet on three floors, containing 24 rooms, four fireplaces and a fully finished basement. The Benton family purchased the one-third acre property in 1939 for six-thousand dollars. Today the historic site is owned and managed by the Missouri Department of Natural Resources. Tours are provided that show the furnished house and studio as Benton left it when he died on January 19, 1975. (His wife, Rita, died eleven weeks later.)

Though slightly dated after some forty years, the Benton house kitchen
still appears modern and quite functional. (The photographic distortion is due to my having stitched together two somewhat incompatible images.)
As with Georgia O'Keeffe, Jackson Pollock, and several other 20th-century artists, we tend to think of them in terms of the distant past, born in the 19th-century and therefore living in a manner quite antique by today's standards. True, there's no fifty-inch TV hanging on their wall in their living room, and no attached garage with an electric door opener, no Jacuzzi in the master bath, nor an iphone next to the easel. But neither do we find an icebox in the kitchen, a coal stove in the living room, or a dozen candles burning in the dining room chandelier. Let's face it, any famous artist from the recent past, living and working in America during the 20th century, even by today's standards, would likely be considered wealthy, living a comfortable, if not lavish, lifestyle in accordance with the so-called "American dream." That would pretty accurately describe the American painting icon Thomas Hart Benton and his Kansas City home of forty years.

Self-portraits, 1970 and with his wife, 1922.
Finding the home of Thomas Hart Benton in Kansas City (Missouri, not Kansas) is far from easy. There are no billboards and the house is located in a residential area so restrictive zoning applies. Similarly, there are few maps featuring the historic site. Some city promotional materials don't even take note of its presence or location. I had to make up my own map (below).

The location indicated is, at best, approximate.
Finding the place is made all the more difficult in that, architecturally, the house is in no way exceptional. And, while not unattractive, with its stone and frame exterior, neither would it elicit even a passing glance as one drives by along Belleview Avenue. Built in 1903 for an electric utility executive, and sitting atop a small hill, the house has a somewhat fortress-like ambience little changed by the Benton family during their time in residence. Given the fact that the artist and his family first moved there during the war years of the 1940s, even today, in it's 1970s incarnation, there is still a restrained, conservative element in the décor. Although Benton, his wife, and children (a son and a daughter) endured difficult times during the depression when the American Regionalist painter was still struggling to make a name for himself, by the time they moved to Kansas City they could be said to have been reasonably well-off. Their home reflects this.
Inside, the word "comfortable" comes to mind.
(Ignore the tourist-gray floor protectors.)
As usual, when one sees an artists' abode, it's only when upon entering that artist's custom crafted, personal workspace that the ordinary becomes extraordinary. The studio of Thomas Hart Benton is no exception. First of all it's large. Benton worked large, his mural-like canvases often measuring in feet rather than inches. Add to that his penchant for history painting and live models, the result is barnlike, light and airy, but not inviting. Here we do find an antique coal stove. With their often high ceilings and huge, north-facing windows, artists' studios are notoriously hard to heat. And as unpleasant as such a drafty environment may have been for the artist, consider the plight of Benton's often nude models. Benton is said to have commented: "Development of my art skills stopped in the second grade when a teacher couldn’t recognize a watermelon in my drawing. However, I would have definitely applied more effort if I knew that a career in art allows for unlimited hours alone with nude women, who will not complain if their features will not look so flattering on the painting. It’s art, you know."

A reflection of the man and the artist, probably in a
much neater, more organized state than when he was alive.

Thomas Hart Benton in his studio, painting one of his most famous works, The Rape of Persephone, done about the time he moved into his new home. Dating from the late 1930s, Benton's allegorical nude was considered scandalous by the Kansas City Art Institute. However, it was borrowed by the showman, Billy Rose, who hung it in his New York City nightclub, the Diamond Horseshoe. It is now owned by the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art in Kansas City. Karal Ann Marling, the museum's art historian, calls it, " of the great works of American pornography."


Sunday, January 15, 2017

Raphaël Collin

Morning, 1884, Louis Joseph Raphael Collin, one of
the few works in which his model was not nude.
Sometimes artists have the misfortune of being born at the wrong time. Most often this involves a period some twenty to forty years before a major war in which they find themselves either as combatants or victims, and in either case prone to dying young. However, there are wars and then there are "wars." Perhaps we use the word in a figurative sense too frequently and too lightly. Whatever the case, whether the conflict is military or philosophical, artists have and do get caught up in the resulting disturbances. The French painter, Louis-Joseph-Raphael Collin was one such artist. He was born in 1850, which would make him of military age during the Franco-Prussian war and the five-month siege of Paris in 1870-71. However, that was such a stupid, pretentious, little dustup as to be easily avoidable by any artist with half a mind to do so.
Collin struggled to adapt as Academicism fell into
disfavor during the later years of his career.
Portrait of Paul Victor
1880s, Raphaël Collin
No, the "war" Raphael Collin found himself in the midst of had to do with art, and particularly the conflict between French Academic art and the various avant-garde movements developing during the final decades of the 19th-century. Collin studied first at the school of Saint-Louis, then moved on to Verdun. From there he journeyed to Paris about 1867 where he studied in the atelier of Bouguereau and later that of Alexandre Cabanel. Collin painted still-lives, nudes, portraits, and genre pieces; thus he became thoroughly indoctrinated with Academic values, content, and painting styles. During his early years as a painter, Collin found himself on the "right" side of this art conflict--the winning side--as he developed a modest following and a comfortable lifestyle. However, he was also bright enough to realize that what and how he painted was gradually falling out of favor, seen as old-fashioned, trite, and tiresome.
Summer, 1884, Raphael Collin.
The postcard version is in black and white.
It began with Impressionism. Collin adopted some of the major color tenets into his work as his palette lightened and brightened. His style, and more importantly, his academic infatuation with the female nude however, did not change. His tastefully chaste paintings of lovely naked ladies, long the staple of the Paris salons, became the subject matter for the infamous "French postcards"--in no way obscene--but certainly salacious by 19th-century standards. They appeared especially erotic printed in monochromatic hues and passed around between "gentlemen" of all ages like baseball trading cards. In due time, Collin found himself illustrating erotic works, such as Maurice Ravel's "symphonie ballet," Daphnis and Chloe around 1890 (bottom), and later the lesbian poetry of Pierre Louÿs' Chansons de Bilitis (1906).
This painting has been known by two titles.
The postcard title, Florial, is probably the one preferred.
Collin figured prominently in artistic exchanges between Paris and Tokyo during the late 19th-century as Kuroda Seiki, Kume Keiichirō, Okada Saburōsuke, and others, studied in his studio and at the Académie Colarossi where Collin was associated. Kuroda and Kume, who subsequently assumed professorships at the Tokyo Fine Arts School, were especially instrumental in introducing to Japan Collin's academic teaching methods as well as the lighter palette, brushwork, and the plein air approach he espoused. This mentorship of the first generation of Japanese oil painters contributed to the special respect he continues to enjoy in Japan. Raphael Collins died in Paris in 1916 at the age of sixty-six.

The influence of Impressionism as well as the flowing
composition of Japanese painting can be seen above in
Collin's painting and preliminary drawing.

A Couple Embrace Tenderly Moments
after Making Love Together Forever,
an illustration from Daphnis and Chloe

Saturday, January 14, 2017

John Collier

Lady Godiva, 1898, John Collier
Many artists, now and in the past, go most of their lives utilizing a single style and very often a single area of content--some rigidly so, in fact. Personally, my style of painting has changed little over my career, though my content has always been quite broad. That's quite common among artists, in fact; either a single focus, or a broad interest in a variety of subjects. The British painter, John Maler Collier had two content specialties; and seldom has any artist ever had two that were more diverse than did Collier. Born in 1850, John Collier is most often classed as a Pre-Raphaelite. That pretty well covers how he painted--very typically quite slowly and with great precision. However Collier, unlike most of his brotherhood colleagues, had only two diametrically opposite content areas.
Thomas Henry Huxley, 1885. John Collier, his  father-in-law
Marian Collier,
1880, John Collier
First, he painted rather staid, stodgy portraits of virtually every wealthy, well-known, male personage of British society of his time. He began, around 1880, quite naturally, with his wife, Marian as a model (left, also a painter). This was followed by a portrait of his father-in-law, Thomas Henry Huxley, dating from 1885 (above).

Rudyard Kipling,
1891, John Collier
Collier's portrait of the writer, Rudyard Kipling (right) is typical of his "bread and butter" male portraits. In fact, such portraits were pretty much typical of what most London portrait painters were doing at the time. In that sense, Collier's portrait work, while quite adept, was in no way exceptional. At the same time, interspersed with his portraits, were a few history and mythology paintings such as The Last Voyage of Henry Hudson (below), dating 1881. Such works could, in general, be considered to be well above the norm. but fall quite neatly into the usual style and content areas of the Pre-Raphaelites.

The Last Voyage of Henry Hudson, 1881, John Collier
John Collier studied at The Academy of Fine Arts in Munich and at London's Slade School under Edward Poynter. Besides portraits, Collier also painted a number of imaginative paintings--scenes of mythology and legend. Presently John Collier is less well known as an artist than as a writer. His current fame rests largely on his two books, The Art of Portrait Painting and A Manual of Oil Painting. The importance of these books (especially the latter one) cannot be overstated. In this book, Collier lays out a method of painting followed by many of his contemporaries, such as the Pre-Raphaelite, John Everett Millais. He called this approach, "Sight-size." This painting method involves putting the canvas side by side with the subject, and walking backwards and forwards between each touch. This is particularly well adapted for students in that it allows direct comparison between the picture and the subject. Every touch that is given by this method has to be applied by memory, and not by direct observation, since the painter can only see his subject properly while away from the canvas. The artist then returns to the canvas, applies a stroke or two, then backs off again to see if it's right. This method is much less tedious than it seems; and is capable of giving good results...or at least providing the artist plenty of physical exercise.

After the death of his first wife, Marian, in 1887, Collier
married her younger sister, Ethel, in 1889.

Pharaohs Handmaidens,
John Collier
Far more than most of his Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood colleagues, we also see another side to this typical, Victorian-era, portrait artist, as exemplified in his gaudy version of the legendary Lady Godiva (top), painted around 1898. Though fairly demure by today's standards, by 19th-century standards, Collier's rebellious young lady is about as subtle as a bulldozer in a flowerbed. Though the subject matter was hardly new, Collier's lavishly colored handling of it no doubt raised more than a few eyebrows. Of course, the British art world was, at the time, completely dominated by male tastes. Thus the painting also likely elicited discreet smiles of approval as well. Moreover, as seen in a surprising number of Collier's other nude and semi-nude beauties, such as his Maenads (below), from 1886, and his Pharaohs Handmaidens (right), one has to wonder if maybe the portraits were merely a respectable sideline to his true interests in the painter's art.

Maenads, 1886, John Collier


Friday, January 13, 2017

The Pissarro Museum, St. Thomas, USVI.

Copyright, Jim Lane
My sister and I were left standing out on the sidewalk.
The museum shares its location with a hair salon and
an accounting service (which were also closed).
When my sister talked us into accompanying her and her husband on a Christmas cruise to the Eastern Caribbean this year (it was a very brief conversation), one of the stops was St. Thomas in the U.S. Virgin Islands (USVI). There I had hoped to visit the birthplace and childhood home of the French impressionist painter, Camille Pissarro (now turned into a museum). Yesterday (in the item just below) I told of our encounter with the ghost of Blackbeard, the pirate, and the bronze pirate sculptures of Richard Hallier. Today, let me continue with the rest of the story. Just down over a steep hill from the Hallier gallery is Pissarro's namesake museum. It's located on a thoroughfare they call "Main" Street (it's actually not the main street of the town). The town is called Charlotte Amalie, which is the main city on the main island of St. Thomas (people sometimes confuse the two).
The Pissarro Museum. It's not hard to find, merely
hard to get into.
The weather was warm and sunny. It was the day after Christmas. We weren't uncomfortable, but I would have hated to visit the place in mid-summer. After making a few local inquiries, we were directed to 14 Main Street (top) where the Pissarro family dry-goods store had been located in the mid 1800s. I was a little dismayed to find that, after our search, it was somewhat less than I'd expected. Moreover, I was really disappointed to find the place was closed. Their website notes that they're open seven days a week. Perhaps they were closed it being the day after Christmas. The photos which follow were "borrowed" from a visitor somewhat luckier than we. Perhaps we didn't miss much. The photos and the video (bottom) would suggest that the establishment is something of a souvenir shop with a museum attached.

The second floor location of the museum, where the
Pissarro family once literally lived "over the store."
Camille Pissarro, was born on the island of St. Thomas in 1830. At the time the islands were ruled by Denmark (don't ask, why Denmark? It's a long story). The building at 14 Main Street, once housed the family's dry-goods business. They lived in the flat upstairs. Several of Pissarro's Caribbean inspired works are on display at the gallery (no originals, however), along with works from about two dozen other (local) artists including Jenine Wesselman, Sylvia Kahn, Lee Coplea, and Jan Dunn. These contemporary works in oil, watercolor, gauche, rock, sculpture, and print, are available for sale (which says a great deal about the nature of the "museum." Pissarro lived in St. Thomas until age 12, when he went to a boarding school in Paris.
What we didn't see when we visited the Pissarro Museum.
Camille Pissarro, self-portrait,
1852, about as he appeared
when he depart for Paris.
Pissarro returned to St. Thomas around 1850. He joined the family business and painted in his free time. Pissarro was attracted to political anarchy, a trait which may have originated during his years on St. Thomas. In 1852, he traveled to Venezuela with the Danish artist, Fritz Melbye. Upon returning in 1855, Pissarro decided to forsake the dry-goods business in favor of be-coming an artist. Most of his St. Thomas paintings (below) are dated 1856. That was also the year he hop-ped a ship off the island and headed back to Paris. There he studied at various academic institutions including the Ecole des Beaux-Arts and the Academie Suisse under a succession of masters. These included such nota-bles as Jean-Baptiste-Camille Corot, Gustave Courbet, and Charles-Fran-cois Daubigny. Corot is considered Pis-sarro's most important influence.

All works are by Pissarro and date from 1856, the year
he left St. Thomas to study art in Paris. (He never returned.)
Mountain Landscape at Saint Thomas, Antilles
(unfinished), 1856, Camille Pissarro, his final
St. Thomas painting.


Thursday, January 12, 2017

Richard Hallier

Blackbeard the Pirate by the North Carolina sculptor, Richard
Hallier, cast in bronze, reportedly about life-size (questionable).
His "castle" can be seen in the background.
On our recent cruise to the Eastern Caribbean, my wife and brother-in-law decided not to get off the ship at St. Thomas, U.S. Virgin Islands. So, my sister and I, both of us history buffs, decided to imbibe a little local folklore by pursuing the legend of a pirate named Edward Teach, better known as the infamous "Blackbeard." The operative word in this tale is "legend." It's not as if Edward Teach was not a real, historic figure and notorious pirate. He was indeed, and quite legendary as well. The problem is, he seems never to have never once set foot on the island of St. Thomas; meaning by implication, of course, that he never once spent a single night in their famous "Blackbeard's Castle." In fact, his so-called castle was built by the Danes (who ruled the island at the time) in 1679 as a mere stone watchtower overlooking the sea-level Fort Christian, which guarded the Charlotte Amalie harbor. Moreover, the cylindrical stone tower was erected a full year before Blackbeard was even born. Thus we fell into a tourist trap having as its only redeeming trait the dramatic performance of a delightful Blackbeard impersonator with a (more or less) historic tale to tell, embellished by highly amusing anecdotes. It turns out, Blackbeard had far more to do with Virginia and North Carolina than St. Thomas.

Copyright, Jim Lane
And out in back of the castle, a swimming pool, where
Blackbeard presumably passed the time when not
playing "Pirates of the Caribbean."
The bronze statue of Blackbeard (top) was created several hundred years after Blackbeard terrorized the English colonists of the American east coast by a sculptor (also from North Carolina) named Richard Hallier. I didn't measure it, but the dramatic bronze personage appeared to be around ten to twelve feet tall, though the human version of Blackbeard suggested it was life-sized. If so, he was woefully inadequate for his dramatic role. History suggests that Blackbeard was, indeed of exceptional stature; but though he may have been BIG, he wasn't that big. I didn't look inside Blackbeard's so-called "castle." Danish watchtowers have never been very high on my "must-see" list.

Copyright, Jim Lane
Three Queens, Richard Hallier, commemorating three powerful
women who led an 1878 slave revolt against the Danes.
Had this little sojourn ended there, I would have been somewhat incensed at the locals for perpetrating such a hoax and at myself for having fallen for it. However, just a few dozen stone steps down over the hill from this fake pirate abode was yet another such pirate abiding place, this one much more interesting, free of charge, and more in keeping with my art interest. There, in an airy, modest-size museum, was a collection of a dozen or so bronze pirate images by the earlier Blackbeard's sculptural creator, Richard Hallier (below). These were, indeed, life-size, dramatically posed, some made even more lifelike through the use of chemical patinas designed to add a touch of color to their otherwise polished bronze tones. Just about every pirate of the Caribbean short of Jack Sparrow and Peter Pan's Captain Hook was portrayed in action, doing what they did best, fighting, drinking, carousing, or...well, pirating.

The real "pirates of the Caribbean" safely cast
in bronze by North Carolina sculptor, Richard Hallier.
In retrospect, I feel somewhat remiss in not recognizing immediately the name, Richard Hallier, in that the scope and quality of this internationally known sculptor ranges far beyond giant pirates and life-size attempts to bring such colorful characters to life. Although painters have long been known to try capturing frozen action poses in their works, few sculptors have tried to do the same. Hallier not only tried but succeeded as his athletic figures seen below attest. Like his pirates, they seem to have a life of their own only barely contained by the bronze metal in which they are cast.

Volley Ball Dig, Richard Hallier
Born in 1944, and from Kansas City, Kansas, originally, Hallier began his art career as a U.S. Marine Corps Illustrator during the Vietnam War. After the war, he attended Kansas City, Junior College and the Ringling School of Art & Design in Sarasota, Florida. During the 1970s, Hallier founded his own business, the Carolina Sign Company with showrooms on Hilton Head Island, at Shipyard Plantation, Palmetto Dunes Resort, and Sea Pines, South Carolina. From 1984 through 1988 Hallier began sculpting. He produced his first life-size figurative bronze. In addition, he also fabricated hundreds of contemporary abstract stone sculptures and bronze abstract figurative pieces in limited editions. He exhibited regionally and nationally, his work included in many corporate collections and museums such as NCNB corporate collections, Wachovia Bank, R.J. Reynolds, Northern Telecom, the Hickory North Carolina Museum of Art, and many others.

Olympic Headquarters, Colorado Springs, Colorado, Richard Hallier

Richard Wayne Hallier, 2006
During the 1990s, Hallier Produced over 70 life-size fig-urative bronzes. He was one of the top three artists at New York Art Expo, as well as con-tributing to the North Carolina Arts Journal cover feature on Martin Luther King, Jr. Memor-ial Commission. He also pro-duced the World's largest figurative silver casting. Dur-ing the years 2000-2006 Hallier worked on commis-sions for private investors and monuments including the pir-ate figures my sister and I encountered on St. Thomas. Richard Wayne Hallier spent the last three years of his life sailing the Caribbean with his wife. He died from pulmonary fibrosis on April 17th, 2010, in Punta Gorda, Florida, at the age of 65.

Girl with Shell, Richard Hallier