06 May 2009

John Alden and Priscilla Mullins

click image for larger view

JOHN ALDEN, 1621 and PRISCILLA MULLINS, 1621

Japanese woodblock (moku hanga)
Paper size: 8" x 6" (20.3 x 15.2 cm)
Image size: 6" x 4.75" (15.2 x 12 cm)
4 shina plywood blocks each
4 hand-rubbed impressions each
Paper: Nishinouchi
Edition: 15

The 400-year time gap plus the paucity of information about these two individuals made depicting them as they might have actually looked practically impossible for me, so I decided to just let myself look at them from here -- from 21st century Northampton, Massachusetts, about 135 miles from where John and Priscilla found themselves in the spring of 1621.

For the portrait of 22-year-old John, I started with William Bradford's description of John as "a hopfull yong man, [who] was much desired." This plus a mention I found on the internet that John was tall made me postulate that he was a "hunk." I looked through dozens of fashion magazines and stock photos of handsome men trying to discern what male beauty looks like in 2009 -- bedroom eyes, metrosexual but still brawny, confident. I distilled features from a number of photographs to come up with a composite hunky anglo guy -- felt a little like a forensic artist (now there's a career idea!). Then I read that Alden did some hunting and trapping in Kennebec, Maine, and the idea of him wearing an LL Bean style hunting jacket got stuck in my mind. Knowing that Alden was not a Separatist himself makes it likely that he stayed in the new world hoping for financial gain, so I put the stars around his head. The stars reminded me of insects, and then I remembered reading that most of the people in that time period had lice and fleas, so the thought was completed. John Alden was a hunk but there were lice in his hair.

While constructing the portrait of 16-year-old Priscilla, I was again struck with how difficult the lives of women were in 17th century New England. Nearly 50% of the settlers in Plymouth died the first winter, and Priscilla was the only survivor of her family group. I chose to depict her in her private grief and again I applied 21st century notions of anglo female beauty to the picture -- she is thin, with delicate features and long lashes. I used "memento mori" imagery from colonial American sources to decorate the corners of the piece. I liked the cloud-like stripes behind her to compliment John's stars.

These are small prints. I may create printed "frames" for them eventually, and I expect there will be additional family portraits to come.

15 comments:

Anita Thomhave Simonsen said...

They are absolutely adorable...such beautiful prints Annie.....full of emotions.....I really think I can see thoughts and good work in these pieces...love the green color...such a good colorchoice for the whole print....very good...just gave me a kick, when I saw it....

Magic Cochin said...

I love these - and loved reading about how you devised them. The format somehow reminds me of very early packaging and looks very American.

You also reminded me of an incident when I was an art buyer for a publisher. A very reliable and talented artist was late sending me his artwork (strippable board sent in the post - remember that!) and I was getting it in the neck from the production department. I eventually tracked him down - his excuse... "the police came and ordered me to do a portrait of the man they'd found dead on the beach" he wasn't lying.

Celia

Zach VanDeHey said...

Very nice prints, they have a really great quality to them.

Ellen Shipley said...

Beautiful. He's so full of life and she's so sad. Poor dear.

Kim Rosen said...

These are great Annie. I love reading about your thought process. The mix of past and present really makes these prints timeless.

Steve Emery said...

Wow, Annie, these are wonderful. Artistic dreaming about people hundreds of years ago. And your thoughts on the details were priceless and funny - insight into your creative process and sense of humor and humanity. I've recently decided to do more figures in my own art, and this post of yours is further inspiration.

These are both beautiful. The light and the wind on John... The sorrow on Priscilla...

Linden said...

beautiful prints and a fabulous bit of research that makes them unique, strong and thought provoking. Love your colour choices too!

Leslie Moore said...

Lovely prints, Annie. I can't believe how much expressive detail you've carved into each face. Hunky hubris and such despair. You are going to become a portrait artist if you don't watch out!

kiteastman said...

Beautifully done, Annie. I feel the emotions of Priscilla, I see the hunk-ness of John. Your narrative alongside the creation of the prints was enriching.

Amy Greenan said...

Oh wow. These work so well on so many levels. I just love the historical research you did to make the stories behind the portraits really come alive and believable as real people who experienced all these things.

Such imagination and skill! Will these be available for sale?

Annie B said...

Thanks so much for your comments. I'm at the "abandonment" stage with these -- I've spent so much time looking at them I have no idea whether I like them or not, whether I hit any marks or not -- my tendency is to run quickly away and start a new print!

So I appreciate your comments and I find it interesting to hear what you see in these.

Yes, these will be for sale. They're drying right now. Feel free to email me at annie"at"anniebissett.com if you'd like to purchase or discuss.

curt said...

Again, wonderous works and the story of their genesis beautifully told. Thank you.

starkeyart said...

The "abandonment" stage ... that's a great way to put it and I know exactly what you mean. You put so much effort and thought into it but then you reach a point where you just want to be finished so you can get on with your life, and the next print.

These are great, love the color combination. I find the narrative that went along with the process is every bit as interesting as the final print. And the stars do remind me of bugs now that you've said it!

moreidlethoughts said...

Not only good prints, you have breathed extra life into them and made these people seem so real.
And all without over-dramatising.
(I think Johnnie Depp must look to his laurels!)

Annie B said...

Thanks curt and starkeyart. Moreidlethoughts, how did you know that I like Johnnie Depp?