Deconstructing Lawrence’s Struggle Series: Panel 12

Jacob Lawrence, Struggle … From the History of the American People, no. 12: And a Woman Mans a Cannon (Molly Corbin, Defense of Ft. Washington, North Manhattan Island, November 16, 1776), 1955. Egg tempera on hardboard, 16 x 12 in. Private Collection of Harvey and Harvey-Ann Ross. © 2015 The Jacob and Gwendolyn Knight Lawrence Foundation, Seattle / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York

This spring, former Phillips curator Beth Turner taught an undergraduate practicum at the University of Virginia focusing on Jacob Lawrence’s Struggle series. In this multi-part blog series, responses from Turner’s students in reference to individual works from the series will be posted each week.

Panel 12 of the Struggle series tells the story of Margaret Cochran Corbin, a veteran of the Revolutionary War and the first woman to receive a military pension. Corbin originally served as a cook and laundress for the militia, but soon joined the battle as a matross, or cannon operator. When her husband’s matross partner was killed in action, Corbin took up the task herself. As the fight wore on, Corbin’s husband was also killed and she was left to operate the cannons alone. Although she was inexperienced in combat, Corbin was described as having excellent aim, a fact that the British did not overlook. With multiple British troops firing at her, Corbin held her ground and was the last cannon to stop firing in battle.

Though the entire piece details the narrative of Margaret Cochran Corbin, she is rather obscured in the panel. Filling almost the entire left side of the painting, Corbin’s dress is the same tan brown with abstracted shadows as the background and appears to blend in almost seamlessly. She is shown with her back to the viewer, focusing on the cannon fire. Additionally, the two accompanying figures appear much more dynamic. Lawrence is not allowing the viewer to see the most important part of the narrative. Instead, he provides insight through the text. In a removed, objective tone Lawrence reveals what is hidden in the panel’s abstraction, creating a relationship between the text and image that gives both new meaning.

Madeline Bartel

 

American Moments Portraits: Staff Inspiration

Untitled_Sue Ahn

“Untitled” by Museum Assistant Sue Ahn

You can create a portrait in the American Moments: Photographs from The Phillips Collection inspired by a gallery in the exhibition that features portraits of artists, including notable painters, photographers, and musicians. We asked staff to create a few kick off submissions (check out a few we featured earlier this week); here are some of our favorites. Share yours with #AmericanMoments and you might see it featured here during the exhibition.

Paco_Dan McSwain

“Paco” by Dan McSwain

Catfish Selfie_Barbal Sisoridae

“Catfish Selfie” by Barbel Sisoridae

Untitled_Anonymous

“Untitled” by Anonymous

Bennett_Elizabeth

“Bennett” by Elizabeth

 

Deconstructing Lawrence’s Struggle Series: Panel 3

This spring, former Phillips curator Beth Turner taught an undergraduate practicum at the University of Virginia focusing on Jacob Lawrence’s Struggle series. In this multi-part blog series, responses from Turner’s students in reference to individual works from the series will be posted each week.

Struggle_Panel 3

Jacob Lawrence, Struggle … From the History of the American People, no. 13: Rally Mohawks! Bring out your axes, and tell King George we’ll pay no taxes on his foreign tea…—A Song of 1773, 1955. Egg tempera on hardboard, 16 x 12 in. Private Collection of Harvey and Harvey-Ann Ross. © 2015 The Jacob and Gwendolyn Knight Lawrence Foundation, Seattle / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York

Rally Mohawks! Bring out your axes, and tell King George we’ll pay no taxes on his foreign tea…  – A song of 1773

The Boston Tea Party is depicted in this panel with an abstracted and geometric composition. The eye follows the dynamic image and quickly absorbs a violent scene, but one lacking in anger or sentimentality. Rather, it is assertive and cogent in communicating the chaos. The colonists are shown under the guise of American Indians, which was not an arbitrary choice; for the colonists, the Indian symbolized liberty and an emerging American identity.

The issue of identity is contextually relevant to the period in which Lawrence was painting this panel. The 20th century was a time when African American identity was being formed and interrogated. Prominent African Americans, especially artists, were charged with constructing and elevating this identity and self. Jacob Lawrence agreed that this “twoness” as an American and a black man or woman existed, but that it was symbolic. Perhaps these challenging juxtapositions are also what defined the colonists and their need to appropriate the identity of the American Indian, two seemingly polar identities.

Alexis Baker

 

This panel depicts six figures in conflict: three masked figures, two unmasked figures, and an additional arm which leads to an “off screen” figure which is likely unmasked (the hand is grasping a masked face).  Each masked figure grasps the face or head of an unmasked figure and vice versa.  The masked figures wear colored garments and Indian headdresses, and the unmasked figures wear black.  Two of the masked figures hold hammers in aggressive poses.  Composition is triangular, every line is diagonal which lends a sense of movement and tension to the image.

As there is no evidence of a physical altercation during the Boston Tea Party, Lawrence may have intended this image to depict the ideological conflict between revolutionary Americans and loyalist Americans.

Heather Chandler