"Posterity will owe everlasting thanks to John Brown for lifting up once more to the gaze of a nation grown fat and flabby on the garbage of lust and oppression, a true standard of heroic philanthropy, and each coming generation will pay its installment of the debt. . . . John Brown saw slavery through no mist or cloud, but in a light of infinite brightness, which left no one of its ten thousand horrors concealed." Frederick Douglass

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Sunday, August 10, 2008

"Portrait of the Abolitionist John Brown" by Perceptive Brooklyn Sculptor

Nancy Rohan, a self-identified "working mother of three now-grown children" has become the latest artist to complete a sculpture of John Brown. Rohan told this blogger that she had decided to create a portrait in clay to be cast in bronze (in order to learn that process), and had to pick a subject. "I wanted a heroic figure," she says, but "no contemporary person came to mind, and most historical figures had been commemorated many times." However, during a visit to the National Portrait Gallery in Washington, D. C., Rohan "was struck" by Ole Peter Hansen Balling's painting of Brown (ca. 1873). The "piercing eyes" of that portrait caught her attention from as far as fifty feet away, and Rohan was drawn to the portrait. "I knew immediately that John Brown would be my subject." Feeling responsible to learn more about him, she began to read about Brown online, but found "conflicting accounts." She also observed that "historically, artists' depictions of him had changed over time toward portraying him as a wild -haired wild-eyed madman." Very perceptive observation--since these same skewing of Brown was taking place in writing about Brown as well, both fictional and historical writing. Rohan studied illustrations done at the time of his capture, observing that Brown's beard was "neither long nor unkempt." She also read transcripts of interviews with him by prominent citizens and officials and concluded that he showed no sign of mental instability. "Conversely, they spoke of his calm demeanor." "Then," Rohan declared perceptively,

right after his death the SPIN began. His actions seemed frequently taken out of context, viewed apart from the circumstances in which they occurred. I was amazed that this twisted "history" could have been perpetrated for so long and become so deeply ingrained in our culture.
Rohan says that her older brother remembers being taught in high school that Brown was crazy. No surprise, since this has been the presumption of many standard U.S. history textbook authors despite their lack of sound information. She concluded that it is "encouraging that more recently scholars and biographers seem to be making efforts to restore Brown's reputation," although she is still bothered by the "underlying implications and continuation of the spin." To Rohan, to "trivialize his beliefs and goals by burying them under the cloak of insanity is so insulting on so many levels to so many people, and so purely political, that in itself the spin seems diabolical. " Consequently she has concluded that "John Brown may be the most misrepresented, maligned figure in our history." It seems like Rohan the sculptor understands what too many academics cannot seem to understand despite all their high-brow conferences and publications. "I decided I would rather portray him in the more dignified traditional manner usually reserved for the highly respected," concludes Rohan.

Rohan's sculpture is now at the foundry and she expects the first bronze casting to be ready in early September. She will eventually offer castings in plaster as well as bronze. She acknowledges that the whole process is new to her, so anyone interested in supporting her work would be welcomed. Interested readers are encouraged to leave inquiries in the comment section below this article with your email address. They will be forwarded to Rohan and will not be published on this blog.--LD

1 comment:

Kroy said...

what an amazing sculpture! I heard about your work from your son, Billy when I met him a few weeks ago while driving him to the airport from Camp Woodward. Our conversation quickly changed from skateboarding to Harpers Ferry when I told him I live there. I think your work is amazing, and must admit that it has inspired me to learn more about the man and of the different accounts of what happened here.

I hope your work has the same effect on others as it has on me.

I wish you all the best, and hope that you get to visit Harpers Ferry someday.


Kroy Taughinbaugh
Harpers Ferry, WV