Wednesday, August 30, 2017


For a white artist to deal with race in his or her work these days can be problematic, to say the least. Dana Shutz and Sam Durant's recent difficulties with exhibiting their work at the Whitney and Walker respectively, points up an uneasiness and at times,  downright unwillingness on the part of institutions to allow for the discussion, other than to capitulate to ultra-PC academic forces. Durant's piece was burned (with his permission) and Shutz's Emmett Till painting came close. So when I started a narrative that would hopefully trace a Dutch/English family's roots going back three hundred and fifty years in America, I knew I was in for some reevaluations, not always pleasant, when it came to race. To not deal with this issue would be inexcusable, if not impossible. How can you write about, scalpings, kidnappings, slavery, hangings, lynchings, assassinations attempts, and the conquest of America, without dealing with racial issues? The one thing I have going for me at this point is I'm not showing in museums and (F)ancestor remains unfinished and unpublished. Obscurity has its perks.
   But what about if it does get published? I hear you- . "Never happen." And maybe you are right, but what if....? Not only have I discovered black Osterhout family branches, but many slaves and "freedmen" and women with the name Jennings. A friend caustically referred to this as the family "property line," as opposed to "bloodline." Cringe worthy as the term is, he's absolutely right. One of the many reasons we are in the shape we are in these days, post first African American President and drowning under the current administration is an unwillingness to face our past with clear eyes. Reading the Indian treaties, published by Benjamin Franklin in the 1750's, every treat was opened with both sides "ridding the path of briars, clearing throats to speak the truth, removing stones from ears, and wiping tears from the eyes...." so what was said could be assimilated, understood, and taken with the best of intentions. Congress should open every session with words to that effect.
    In my writing I've just witnessed John Wilkes Booth leap from the Presidential box at Ford's theater with the words according to court testimony,"I'm sick; send for Maginnis" or Sic temper Tyrannis! W.H. Seward was attacked and almost killed the same night. Reconstruction that had hopefully begun with the passage of the flawed 13th amendment would now be embraced as a three pronged approach, one of the dominant prongs being white supremacy. I'll leave you with a small item from J.P. Osterhout's Bellville Countryman a year later in 1866: ATTEMPTED OUTRAGE BY NEGRO ON A WHITE LADY- " a negro, the former property of Mrs Conyers, attempted to commit an outrage on the person of Miss Giune, a very respectable young lady....Miss Giune was fortunate enough to free herself from the grasp of the beastly ruffian..." This 18 year old former slave, who is never named was then captured and on his way to the jail was "seized by the Mr. Giune (the father) a rope put around his neck and swung from an adjacent tree. The whole thing was done without any excitement or confusion, few citizens being aware of it until the negro was dead." Reconstruction was in full swing. Trump and Charlottesville are that legacy.


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