It’s difficult to find a natural landscape in the South today that resembles the presettlement wilderness described by William Bartram in his famous Travels. It can also be difficult for a contemporary southerner to read the Travels without assuming that Bartram was indulging in hyperbole. Centuries of intensive land use have transformed the South since the 1770s.
Inspired by Bartram’s Travels and my own longstanding desire to see the presettlement South that he described, I embarked on a series of paintings to offer a region-wide vision of the landscape that Bartram would have seen over two hundred years ago. Sixteen of these paintings are included in a new book, Bartram’s Living Legacy, the Travels and the Nature of the South. They, and over fifty others, including several of the paintings on display here, will be exhibited at the Telfair Museum in Savannah from January 28 to May 8, 2011.
In this exhibit I have assembled much of the field work that has been critical in helping me to understand Bartram’s experience. All of these paintings were begun, and most of them finished, in the short amount of time allowed by the passage of the sun or other ephemeral elements. They were painted in beautiful, uncommon, sometimes remote, and often imperiled places that still have the ecological and aesthetic qualities that Bartram observed. In visiting and painting these natural remnant landscapes, I believe I have come as close as possible to actually setting foot in Bartram’s eighteenth century wilderness.
The exhibit will be held in conjunction with a book reading event on September 24th when Phil Willliams reads from The Flower Seeker and Dorinda Dallmeyer from Bartram’s Living Legacy. Philip will display and talk about the paintings on the cover of these two books at the event.