Friday, January 22, 2010

Stage Three, Sarah Emma Edmonds: Departure

This image was shot earlier today. I have made a fair amount of progress on the water imagery since the last image posted, and have now begun to include some of the other elements; most notably, the suggestion of birds flying up out of the water and to the top and right sections of the format. As the birds are meant to be symbolic, my intention is to keep them minimally described, but I'm not yet convinced that they're as developed as I'd like them to be. Part of what I like about posting things online is that it enables me to look at the composition in a slightly different way than when I'm looking at the actual work-in-progress. So I'll study it a while and contemplate my next move.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Stage Two, Sarah Emma Edmonds: Departure

This view is from October 10, 2009. Progress has been slow, for several reasons. First, I'm experimenting by using a different type of surface -- a product called Gessobord -- for this piece, which measures 18" x 24". It's a very rough, hard surface, much different from the paper surfaces I normally use, and requires a lot of pencil pressure and many layers for the pigment to really stick to the surface. Second, while I know that I want the format to be dominated by this view of choppy water -- symbolic of Magaguadavic Lake -- on whose shores Sarah Emma grew up and whose waters and character, I feel strongly, greatly impacted her, I am uncertain of the best approach to take to convey the mood I'm hoping for. Also, there are other elements which I want to incorporate into the composition and am struggling with how best to do that. So there are a lot of unanswered questions, for me, and I have a strong tendency to let it sit and focus on other things -- commission work, new images for my Christmas card series, local Gettysburg scenes. Those things don't seem quite so demanding.

Early Stage, Sarah Emma Edmonds: Departure

The piece that is currently commanding my attention deals with the life experiences of Sarah Emma Edmonds. The view seen above is from a very early stage of its development, in early August 2009.

Born on a farm on the shores of Magaguadavic Lake in New Brunswick, Canada, Sarah Emma Edmonds grew up with the constant awareness of her father's deep resentment that she was born female rather than male. As a child, Emma tried to prove herself "worthy" by assuming many of the more difficult tasks on the farm and becoming proficient in riding horses, canoeing and other skills traditionally associated with boys. When at the age of 17 her father tried to "marry her off" to a much older neighbor in order to reduce the number of mouths he had to feed at home, she had had enough. Though specific accounts vary, the record shows that she left home and in less than a year, reappeared having assumed the clothing, mannerisms, lifestyle -- and name -- of a man. She was now living as Franklin Thompson, and became a successful traveling book salesman.

Her work eventually brought her to the United States and she was living in Flint, Michigan when the Civil War began. When the first call for Union volunteers went out, Emma (now Frank) saw many of her friends enlisting and wished to do the same. After training in Washington, Emma Edmonds (alias Frank Thompson) was assigned as a male nurse to the hospital unit of the 2d Michigan Infantry, a position she held at the time of the First Battle of Manassas.

Lest readers draw the conclusion that Emma was suffering from ambivalence toward her gender identity, or perhaps was simply a cross-dresser, they should note not only that she secretly revealed her true identity in late 1861 to a fellow hospital steward with whom she had fallen in love (only to be rejected), but that in 1863, for fear of having that identity discovered when she developed malaria, she deserted the army eventually to resurface in Oberlin, OH where she resumed her life as a woman. After the war she went on to marry and give birth to three children and adopt two more. In the 1880's she petitioned the government for, and eventually became the only woman ever awarded, a full soldier's pension for her service during the Civil War.

I am finding Sarah Emma Edmonds to be an extremely complex and sometimes mysterious character and want to create a group of works to try to understand and describe her nature at various points in her life. This first piece deals with her early years, leading up to her escape from a dicatatorial father. It is not taking the form of a literal portrait, but rather will contain elements of her early experiences to give an impression of her nature during this time.

Welcome to My Drawing Board!

Thanks for visiting this new venture. I'm very new to the concept of blogging, but have gotten "my feet wet" by being a member of the Daily Painters of Pennsylvania blog ( Through that experience, I've come to see that having my work-in-progress available for viewing and potential discussion through a blog, may be a better way to stay in touch with friends I've made either through my Gettysburg, PA gallery, through my colored pencil classes in Ohio, or by way of my botancial illustration classes through Phipps Conservatory in Pittsburgh, PA.

If you've visited my gallery or website (, you may be aware that my body of work has been divided into several categories. On My Drawing Board will feature primarily work from my Beyond the Battlefield series, since those are the pieces that generally require a good deal of research, are larger and tend to develop slowly.