Friday, June 12, 2009

A raft is a raft is a raft -- or is it?

Lumber Raft 1868 -- another painting by Frances Anne Hopkins

A river runs through the farm

Do you ever wonder, sometimes, how people living under primitive conditions are able to accomplish what they accomplish? My painter and your very own Frances Anne Hopkins provided an illustration of ingenuity 19th Century style in her painting, "The Lumber Raft 1868."

This time, I am not certain of the exact location where this event took place, but I would not be afraid to put a few dollars on the table betting that it was on Lake Superior, and probably an enterprise associated with building projects in Fort William and Port Arthur in present day Ontario, Canada.

Look closely at the painting and at the scope of the activities. The raft in the foreground, one of two in the painting, has three large sails and a tent. What appears to be five large barrels or bales are on the deck, probably food supplies. A cooking fire burns. There are approximately 50 men scattered around the raft. No small enterprise, this. No better eye for detail than Frances.

Although mine was not a task comparable to the one captured on canvas by Frances, when I was a boy, about 11, I built a raft by creating a double layer deck from old, dried fence posts. For a few weeks that summer, I was a Minnesota version of Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn, exploring a river that ran through my grandmother's farm. The raft met an untimely end when it was consumed in a grass fire the next spring. It was timeless and ageless fun while it lasted.

The lights begin to twinkle from the rocks;
The long day wanes; the slow moon climbs; the deep
Moans round with many voices. Come, my friends.
'T is not too late to seek a newer world.
Push off, and sitting well in order smite
The sounding furrows; for my purpose holds
To sail beyond the sunset, and the baths
Of all the western stars, until I die.
It may be that the gulfs will wash us down;
It may be we shall touch the Happy Isles,
And see the great Achilles, whom we knew.
Tho' much is taken, much abides; and tho'
We are not now that strength which in old days
Moved earth and heaven, that which we are, we are,--
One equal temper of heroic hearts,
Made weak by time and fate, but strong in will
To strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield.

The concluding lines from
"Ulysses"
By Alfred, Lord Tennyson

17 comments:

A Cuban In London said...

The precise mathematical calculation in building any type of transport back inthe day would have put most scientists to shame today. That raft is a monument to human intelligence, diligence and industriousness.

I mentioned it in my previous commentary, but I will repeat it now. This painter that you introduced to me has really gone down a treat I love her use of space and colours. Look at how the pale, almost light orange hue from the sky changes into an almost imperceptible blue in the water. It is magnificent. Many thanks.

And the poem, well, I haven't read this since I was in uni, I think. And Tennyson, like many other novelists, poets and writers in general is one of those classics to which I will have to go back because first time around the approach to their work was far too academic.

Many thanks.

Greetings from London.

Magdalena said...

Super, that you did it by yourself, Fram the Wolf! When I was a girl, I was often dreaming about building a raft, but I had not wood and strenght enough to do it. I can imagine how exciting and unforgotten feeling it could be... Today's painting is great, and the poem is a kind of masterpiece. Sending you a lot of Polish Sun!!! Bye, bye :-)

Fram said...

Yes, CiL. There is not nearly the love or appreciation for Frances that she merits as an artist, much less as a woman. Think of her again, coming into primeval America as a 20-year-old wife, loosing her baby and traveling with her husband to places no white women before her had gone. Then, coming out of the wilderness to the "city" -- to Montreal -- back to produce paintings such as these, and later being acknowledged in the art world that was London. Truly a woman to die for, if there exists such a creature beyond the poet's dream.

And, yes, the raft is all you say it is and more. To paraphrase Shakespeare: What creative geniuses these mortals be.

And, yes, again, to Tennyson. To read these fellows as a student and to read them again later in life very often is like the difference between night and day. Once more, the adage is proven: Life is wasted on the young.

Fram said...

It would be fun to spend a few days on a raft of some size drifting along a lazy river, I think, Magda. Anyway, it is never too late to build a raft.

I have been on my boyhood raft that measured about six feet by six feet, and from there on to all sizes of watercraft up to naval vessels with a crew of 500, and I greatly prefer those where I am close to the water.

The juxtaposition of the painting, Europeans conquering the American wilderness, and the poem, an older Ulysses (Odysseus) rallying his compatriots from the Trojan war to accompany him on one final adventure, form a unique bond to demonstrate the strength of the human spirit, it seems to me. At least, that is what I was trying to accomplish with them.

I am enjoying your sun .... thank you.

Katy said...

That's less of a raft and more of an island, Fram :-) Wonderful picture and a wonderful idea.

I know it's a bit of a tangent, but it's reminded me of the winner of the Turner Prize (for modern art) a couple of years ago. I managed to get 3 free tickets to go and see the exhibition at the Tate in London, so off we trooped - Roo, my (now) ex and me. The winning piece was called "Shed Boat. Shed" - the artist had found an old abandoned shed, taken it apart and made it into a boat, sailed it down a river, and then reassembled it into a shed.

It was not, in all honesty, that impressive looking. Nor really very art like. Anyway, as you left the exhibition, there was a wall upon which visitors were invited to write their reviews of the exhibition. I'd thought my ex had been exceedingly unimpressed by what he'd seen, so was very surprised to see him scribbling on one of the cards to add to the review wall. Intrigued, I went over to read it.

He'd written 3 words:

"Shed. Boat. Sh*t"

Fram said...

Well, I am not certain how to respond to your comment, Katy. I am sort of scratching my head. I have heard of boats being built from the hoods of two old cars. I once saw a four-barrel raft with a shed atop it so rain would not interrupt the owner's daily fishing habit. But, I have never heard of shed disassembly and shed reassembly with an interlude between as a boat. Something only an artist would scheme or dream.

Still, even though modern art is not at all my "thing," I cannot say I would agree completely with your ex.

Piper .. said...

"Do you ever wonder, sometimes, how people living under primitive conditions are able to accomplish what they accomplish?"

Yes, I almost always do. Strange as it seems in retrospect, I wonder how I ever managed on my own for three years in the most primitive of living conditions. In fact what`s even more strange is that people back in my country continue to live that way even in this date and age and possibly remain better achievers than the urban class.
Loved the poem Fram. Somewhere it touches a chord.
Lastly, yes it would be awesome to float down a 'lazy river' on a raft at night, having the stars shine down on me - though I cant ever imagine myself doing it really! :)

TheChicGeek said...

Hi Fram :) I love this painting the best of all of them so far. The colors of the water and the sky and rocks are beautiful. Your summer raft adventures sound like every child's dream...Raised in the city, we used to often set up our tent in the backyard and we thought we were fabulous adventurers...LOL....You were lucky to have a raft, a river and a farm to explore! I don't think I would come in the house the entire summer if I were so lucky :D
Tennyson's words...perfect :)
Have a Happy Day!

Fram said...

Piper, the girl from the other side of the world.

You shook my senses. I think of primitive in a historical sense, the primeval forest, the unbroken prairie, the places close to where I have lived. I had not been thinking of it in a geographical sense, where "modern conveniences" are not so readily available, and in terms of the things you have been experiencing recently and writing about on your page. Provincial Fram, once again. I keep saying I need more of a world view, but neglect to practice it.

Several of Tennyson's poems appeal to me a great deal.

A raft on a river might be difficult to find, but there are riverboats a hop, skip and a jump away from you. That might be a logical place to begin.

I like your "new look."

Fram said...

There will be one, maybe two, more paintings Frances produced appearing here in the days ahead, Kelly, so maybe you should wait a while before selecting a final favorite. The colors in this one are amazing, though.

The small town and country environment created an ideal setting in which to grow up. This farm was about four miles from town, and no one lived there anymore. Quite often, my mother or grandmother would drop me off there in the morning, with my rifle, a canteen and a few sandwiches, and pick me up around "supper time." How many boys get to live like that these days? Thinking back, I did not have a dog at that time; I was in between boyhood pups and hunting dogs. A dog was the only thing missing.

Tennyson is one of the giants, I think, and this particular poem fits me well at this stage of my life. It might be a decade or so early for me, but his words are beginning to resonate: The final adventure.

Piper .. said...

Oh Fram, but that is precisely what I meant - untouched backwaters, unbroken forests, unbridled air to breathe in. And that somehow translates to a lack of 'modern conveniences", dont you think?

What you think as 'historical' is still pretty much "present" at my homeland at the other end of the world. Only that urbanization is slowly catching up now.

"The new look" is not quite new. This picture is a personal favorite, taken in march this year.

Schubi said...

What a lovely painting.
I must admit though - I was completely captivated by the light in there.
It looks so peaceful- like it's very early in the morning. The water is such a clear color, and the sky seems to be floded with light from somewhere "below" the clouds.
Could be evening- but I really got this feeling that it was morning- early morning.
It's strange. It's like, I could feel the sparkling, cold air fill mu lungs and actually hear the birds cooing.

:D Thanks for sharing!

Piper .. said...

just came back to take another look at the painting. And you`re right. It does seem like Lake Superior - I see a part of the view from the Split Rock beach. The small island part..

Natalie said...

Dear Fram,
Thank you for worrying about me.

No, I am not planning to “abandon the sea of blogs”; returning to Russia? – possibly!

After two long weeks of packing, my daughter moved out yesterday… Now I have to get used to emptiness and one extra room… I’ll be back, give me time…

Fram said...

It would seem you rapidly are becoming a fan of Frances, Piper.

Yes, I agree with you that natural elements somehow translate "to a lack of 'modern conveniences.'" This still can be found in the U.S., too, among some people by choice of location and life style, and among others simply because civilization moves in leaps rather than along a roadway.

Urbanization will smother the earth in the end I suppose. I, for one, am glad I was not born any later in time than now.

Fram said...

Well, hello, Nana ....

It is a real treat to have you visit and leave a comment. I am certain it was an early morning painting, too, from the light.

For me, with only a little bit of effort and imagination, I can move inside a "naturalistic" landscape painting. I suppose that is why I vastly prefer traditional art to modern. I never see a place that I could become a part of in the modern.

Fram said...

Greetings, Natalie ....

I was beginning to wonder about you; it has been a couple of weeks since you either posted or visited. Nice to learn you are fine.

Something special ....