Page 3-4, possibly. Text not finalized yet, so I left it out.
I am wrapping up my second week at Monticello. I am much more comfortable here, it feels much more real at this point - for example, I even slept in until 7 this morning. How very un-Jeffersonian, the sun was up before I was.
This week has been humbling and mind-blowing in the most phenomenal ways, and it is clear to me that I have much, much more work to do.
Monday and Tuesday were rainy, so I got to close myself up in the library and do some good reading. I got some more storyboarding done, and some good primary resources.
Pages 6-7, possibly, again without text.
Tuesday was a really moving day - one of the other fellows gave his forum talk on the oral history project Getting Word. I can't help but feel lucky that all of these things are happening at the same time I'm here. Several of the other descendants came to the project, one guy I met last week, Calvin (who is quickly becoming one of my favorite people,) and his grandson, an artist immediately identifiable by his Basquiat t-shirt. After Andrew recounted the research and project he's been working on, which was wonderful, he asked one older lady (75ish?) what her experience has been, and what this descendants project means to her. "Everything." She said simply, and as she began to elaborate, there was a single tear rolling down her cheek. She had told Cinder [the woman who started the project] that she was related to the Gillettes, and Cinder began to list off her family members one by one. The history of the enslaved community at Monticello hasn't been something the foundation always celebrated, and it really wasn't until the late 1990s that this started to be recognized and gain momentum. So, long past due, but gratifying, and so important.
Andrew reminded us that the importance of Getting Word and its impact on the future really can't be quantified, particularly during a week when the "Alt-Right" is holding a rally in Charlottesville. He stressed the importance of reunion, recovery, and resistance, saying that the intrinsic human value of people who lived here is immeasurable - and their artistry and love was reflected in some of the faces (and Basquiat tshirts) of people sitting at the table with us.
I wish I had a better word than profound.
Wednesday I spent about an hour chatting with the lovely Niya Bates, who answered every question I had (and THEN some) on the lives of the enslaved people at Monticello. I also have about 30 new books to read. A story I can't get out of my head - there was a particularly skilled young enslaved craftsman, James, son to Critta Hemings. Some time between 1801 and 1805 he was too sick to go to work at the nailery, and the overseer Gabriel Lilly whipped him three times that day, so badly he nearly died. Lilly was known for his brutality and violence, but Jefferson once said it was impossible to find "a man who fulfills my purposes better." That man (and I do hesitate to use that word) stayed at Monticello after this event (and certainly others like it) until his required salary became too high. That day I did not want to hear another word about the noble founding father Thomas Jefferson.
"We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal," Jefferson wrote. "That they are endowed by their creator with certain inalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness."
And yet, he had the second largest holdings of enslaved people of any Virginian during his lifetime. This was not normal. Plantations where more than 100 people at a time were kept enslaved was NOT common. I have no resolution here, words of wisdom or conclusion. Just have to sit with it.
Something that really amazed me this week was the account of Isaac Granger Jefferson. He was an enslaved tradesman on the plantation who worked as a blacksmith and tinsmith. He did an interview in 1847 that was dictated and kept. There's also a daguerrotype of him from this time (maybe one of the oldest remaining images of an enslaved person?), but you can read the whole account here:
Yesterday I got to meet with somebody in curatorial up at TJ's house before it opened, go poke at things and get references for my panels. Here are some images from outside (because I can't share the others!)
The most important part of the whole trip was a sign on the wall in the reconstructed Hemings cabin (there were quite a few Hemingses enslaved at Monticello). "NOT SO BAD?" It reads. Lest you forget, even for a moment. GOOD. Don't.
I got to meet with another curator who talked to me about how they choose objects, great places for me to look at their collections and other 18th century furniture, and the acute problem of representation that I've set up for myself. How do you depict someone when you don't know what they looked like? What is the best way to do that respectfully? She mentioned how Montpelier and Mount Vernon address the issue of representing people whose faces we do not have records of - one by depicting them from the neck down, just bodies. Another is by showing silhouettes of a person. Identity politics and representation could NOT matter more, particularly with such an important subject matter. I agreed it's something I am honestly not sure how to handle yet.
Every inch of my skin crawls at the idea of not giving the enslaved people faces. I mean, this is a graphic novel, it will be a cartoon. Giving them the wrong face must surely be better than denying them their humanity or literally beheading them. These people had enough of their autonomy stripped from them, they should get to have faces. I think I will keep struggling with this. And here I thought I was going to have trouble finding proper furniture and fashion references.
Aside from some of the heaviness of this week, there have been absolutely delightful social excursions. We went to Kings Family Vineyard, and to go see sunset at Carter Mountain Orchard. It's been a beautiful and enlightening week, and I think that's all I could ask for.
Off to do more drawing, then. Apparently one of the fellows they had here last month was a chief curator at the Frick. What am I doing here? Oh goodness, back to the library.