Hudson’s arrival depicted in public places: historically, a purely European perspective By Bill Jeffway As you know, the September 1609 arrival of Henry Hudson on behalf of the Dutch East India Company, was the commencement of a very different experience for the Dutch, than it was for the indigenous people. The depictions of the event by artists in public spaces in the US are clearly from the European perspective. An important function of the thrusting of the narrative into public view was to show that those of Dutch ancestry had an equal claim to the founding of the US as did the larger, English Protestant establishment settlers.    Hudson’s “first contact” is depicted in the the 1939 and 1940 Post Office murals of the Rhinebeck and Hyde Park Post Offices. In adjacent towns, they are the work of the Rhinebeck artist Olin Dows, a neighbor and trusted friend of Hyde Park’s FDR, US President at the time. Dows was among a handful of Dutchess Couty friends who supported FDR’s interest in local history. The two post offices, based on two, local, Dutch stone houses, were designed to be educational Rhinebeck Post Office Embracing his commission on the Rhinebeck Post Office with confidence, Dows persuaded FDR to abandon the idea of having individual, personal framed portraits in favor of a historical mural that ran from “first contact” to the dedication of the post office building.  Among several depictions of Native Americans, just above the front door, the mural starts with the event referred to as the “first contact.” The scene is a happy exchange between the Dutch and indigenous people. Dows wrote of  the scene, “A sailor chopping a tree is watched by Indians. The Aborigines burned a tree around its base.” Hyde Park Post Office In the Hyde Park Post Office, shown here at its dedication with President Roosevelt, the mural commences in the same way, with the depiction of “first contact.” The difference is that the Native American stands alone, not among a varied group of his people. In the Hyde Park Post Office, shown here at its dedication with President Roosevelt, the mural commences in the same way, with the depiction of “first contact.” The difference is that the Native American stands alone, not among a varied group of his people. Verplanck and Roosevelt, two politicians of Dutch heritage, were eager to elevate the Dutch story Gulian Crommelin Verplanck, of New York City and Fishkill, was a congressman in the early 1830s when the country was forming its ideas about what art would be celebrated in public spaces. Verplanck was chairman of the Senate Committee on Public Buildings and oversaw the commissions that went out to artists for works that would be a central feature of the US Capitol Building . Verplanck’s ancestral family included the Van Cortlands, who collectively owned swaths of land from Westchester to Dutchess County. Verplanck’s Point is in Westchester County. The Verplanck family home is known as Mount Gulian in Fishkill …and still stands and is open to the public. Franklin Delano Roosevelt of Hyde Park started his political career in 1910 as a NY State senator, and culminated in an unprecedented four term US President wins, ending upon his death in 1945. It was FDR who was responsible for the concept design of the post offices in Rhinebeck and Hyde Park. They were modeled on authentic, earlier Dutch stone houses. They reflected his priorities in preserving Dutch history, architecture and culture, and the stories of Dutch influence in founding the nation. In 1929, FDR wrote the forward to “Dutch Houses in the Hudson Valley before 1776” working with DCHS founders Helen Wilkinson Reynolds and photographer Margaret DeMott Brown, both of whom FDR involved in this post office projects. Weir, artisit with an eye on the US Capitol The artist we can credit with kicking Hudson’s arrival as a subject deserving public display and endorsement, is Robert Walter Weir. Weir was angling to get a commission for the new US Capitol building in the 1830s.Weir shamelessly created a painting specifically for Congressman Verplank that put Verplanck’s Dutch ancestors in the most positive light, stopping at a point along the Hudson known then, and  known now, as Verplanck’s point in Westchester County. The scene is one of joy. The land is lush. The Native population is robust, equal in scale and enthusiasm and physical stature. Weir painted this in 1835. He soon became head of Art at the military academy West Point, however. The influence of several years of schooling young men in military matters, as the second wave of the Seminole Wars in Florida were ramping up, prompted Weir to re-do this ‘first contact” in a different light. Weir depicts not only Verplanck’s ancestors, but shows them landing at Verplanck’s Point Weir, ensconced at the Military Academy West Point, starts to see things differently What a difference a few years makes. From the same artist’s hand, the land is barren and unfruitful. The Native Americans are small in scale, recessive in their presence. The burnt orange color creates a feeling of foreboding.  Success. The lobbying seemed to work. Weir got a commission to paint for the Capitol. It is not of Hudson’s arrival but that is less important to him. His painting is of the Embarkation of the Pilgrims, and remains in the Capitol today. From then on, Weir had set this dichotomy of message, where the arriving Europeans found a rich land, of abundant and strong people, or they found a unkempt and declining land, among people who were not their equals. The US Capitol finally has a scene depicting Hudson’s arrival The first depiction of Hudson’s arrival at the US Capitol ends up being years later, when Albert Bierstadt gets a commission and paints this rather optimistic picture in 1872. To remove any doubt about the message, a rainbow arcs across the entire canvass. Or is it a nod to Weir, whose Embarkation of Pilgrims has a more modest, but clearly depicted
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