This week’s painting is my Great Grandfather writing words of wonder into his journal on February 3, 1900. In November I have a show in Hamilton, N.Y., the town six miles east of Lebanon, where he was born and raised. Four generations of my father’s family lived in Hamilton—it was a great place to be in the 19th century. So many triumphs of the future began in Central New York. I am making a painting for each grandfather who lived and died there.
In this painting Henry is dreaming of the night before when Mr. Hatch loaded thirteen boys and girls on a bobsleigh, hitched a team of horses and took them on a midnight ride to Hamilton. He left several of the boys (Henry included) at Colgate Academy to continue their studies into the Spring. Henry wrote of the night:
“We had Will’s big team and a bobsleigh with a big box and plenty of blankets. I had the darndest time I have ever had and so did some of the other people. [A line of his secret code I have not yet deciphered]. We were packed in like sardines in a box. There was 13 in the lead. It snowed and we had to raise umbrellas and do other things to protect us from the storm [more secret code].”
On the next page he writes:
“The following reaction is said to take place by the union of potassium iodide and sulphur, under slight pressure:
KI + 2S —> KISS
This is a dangerous experiment and should not be tried in direct sunlight or where too many people are near.”
At the exhibition I will show work that attempts to make history live again in the blockheads of the 21st century. It’s the teens I want to impress. They can learn a world they never knew, and begin believing again in the simple made extraordinary. Yet even in isolated Hamilton of the digital age it is nigh impossible to keep this thing from encroaching on their dreams.
Colgate University could do a good turn for future generations by killing its wi-fi connection and reinstating practical subjects like agronomy and electrical engineering onto its liberal curriculum.
Fat chance. Even university president John or Jane worship God Iphone.