The Curators of the Smithsonian American Art Museum and Renwick Gallery Need A History Lesson


William the Farmer 1807-1883

Two years ago I set out to document the genealogy of Throops, of which I am the last male in my line. During the Great Depression my Great Grandfather Henry made genealogy his wintertime hobby, when no work was available to an engineer building roads and bridges. He amassed quite an impressive archive to pass on. Old tin types and photos, letters from the mid-nineteenth century, his grandfather’s handwritten autobiography, personal Civil War artifacts and stories handed down from his father, etc., etc. He was a born archivist, yet few in his circle of friends and family appreciated his side work, and boxes got stored in the attic over the course of three more generations. I took up his work in 2012, traveling to all the towns where the family settled since arriving to North America in 1660, and adding more detail to his archive, as well as a poet/painter’s imagination in paint, prose, collage and modern home video technology. I painted 11 portraits of the male line, pasted an eight foot long collage of time line detail, edited a video of my odyssey, and published a colorful book on the patronym, all on my own dime. No grants, no special presents, no expectation of reward. I had a show in October of that year. Good friends came, a few acquaintances, and my begging jar made $130.00 cash for the hundreds of hours put into the display. The book was an absolute joy in the making. I had my father’s handwriting made into a font and used it in many aspects of the design.

In late 2013 I was corresponding with a representative of the Renwick Gallery about acquisition of this work. My intention was/is to preserve in the American Painter archive my historical work as an American painter. At least there it would last as long as the United States remained a sovereign entity.
At first I was vying for a purchase of my work, but the assistant curator hinted that I should also offer it as donation to the museum. I agreed. My intention was/is mostly  archival. I want my great grandchild to have access beyond the thermostatically uncontrolled attic of the future. The assistant agreed to pass the request over to the curatorial team. And I got my reply of “no thank you” by the end of the week.
Ho boy. Now for the argument in favor of nullification.
My wife and I pay a federal tax of about $4,000 a year, maybe more, probably more, but we figure like children in matters of finance. Many people we know have made a touch upon the government till at some point over the course of their lives. Veteran’s benefits, disability checks, and recent Affordable Healthcare recipients to name a few. Many receive no benefit from paying federal tax, other than the illusory cover of protection from a military build up out of control. The Smithsonian is a subsidized institution, as are national parks, and federal highway programs. We pay our half-penny to curators in D.C. to oversee the archive of our history, and our 26th part of a penny to the overseers at the Renwick. Sure, my family can spend a couple thousand bucks visiting Washington D.C. and attend a full day in the Renwick for free, but it’s not for free, as the capital makes its dime on our visit one way or another. In fact our stay in D.C actually helps authenticate a system that has become corrupt beyond recognition of its original intention. I believe that as a living and breathing American painter my request to have the above work archived must be taken seriously. It is respectful payback for my yearly investment made to the coffers of this depleted nation. Just accepting a copy of the book for future reference would have been acceptable to me. A request from the last man in a Throop legacy dating all the way back to 1660 who also happens to be a professional painter! What excuse can the curators of the Renwick possibly give that is not grossly unfair as well as insulting? They represent an historical archive of American painters. How many alive today recently completed a thorough genealogy backed by individual portraits of each male member of eleven generations?  My guess is zero, which gives me some justification to make a claim for storage at least, by virtue of American originality. The Renwick has a basement and the basement can possess a bookshelf to house a Throop publication. I never wanted a floor show. I just expect the art archivists to do their damn job. There is room. The burden is on the curators to prove the contrary. Otherwise, the pink slips. Even I, without doctoral training, would recognize a work of historical significance.
A relative Deborah Goldsmith has some work in the Renwick. She painted several Throops in the Burned Over District of central New York in the early 19th century, making weekend portraits for a time before she married my Great Great Great cousin and then died young. She was a talented poet (my daughters and wife recite one of her poems in the video). There are about ten of her paintings surviving in museums around the country. Her work is very representative of an era in American history when no one graduated from universities as art curators. Therefore valuable historical artifacts weren’t compiled when the compiling mattered—when the work was fresh, available, and undamaged. Today we have multiple millions of dollars exchanged educating professional art archivists who act as if they have not learned a damn thing. They will let me die with a moldy basement stuffed to the ceiling of historically relevant yet significantly damaged lifetime build up of canvases. My children will contact an assistant curator at the Renwick to inquire about donating some of the work. Even then I think acceptance would be a toss-up. One has to be good and dead before a modern educated curator gets hit on the head with an understanding of historical significance. Maybe my great grandkids will have better luck. Maybe nobody in the line gets included in the American legacy. And then an old Whistler depicting a rabbit in the snow is found in someone’s attic, and the $6,000 banners go up around the Renwick calling out to the tourists to come see another ubiquitous painter of our blah-blah history.
And so the subsidized bureaucracy in America feeds upon itself. What’s new?

An Introduction to the Book That The Renwick Finds Unacceptable For Free

I remember the first time I got a hold of Throop/Goldsmith Ancestral Charts. My father had me borrow it, as well as Henry’s three unpublished manuscripts (History, Charts, and Photos) when I was 26 years old. I leafed through the pages at my makeshift desk of early sorrows, while dreaming of Henry Miller, Thoreau, Whitman, Kenneth Patchen, etc. I was going to become them, not myself, which, in a fact I could not conceive of at the time, was all I ever was going to be. The study of genealogy is not for the modern twenty-something. It is a very rare wonder, a young man or woman today delving into the world of their ancestors. Yet for Henry Throop it was an interest of his at an early age. Was genealogy a popular pastime at the turn of the 20th century? His book of local deaths, begun at age eleven, was most likely a professional duty left by a recently deceased country doctor to his son, and not a boy’s macabre fascination to be diagnosed by the Freudians of his day. Still Henry’s interest in the families of Lebanon, N.Y., even in his time, was probably a peculiar quirk for a young man soon off to academy and then college. His early journals are replete with accounts of local marriages, births and deaths. In hindsight this sheds light to a different career path that would have brought him uncommon joys. A successful engineer, I have no doubt that Henry was a born historian. Maybe he would have tossed into the ditch Macadam Road worries and transit dreams, provided there existed an economy in his day that encouraged the intellectual flights of fancy of poor country boys.
So I returned the books to my Dad, giving back no more than “Hmphh, imagine that!” out of the exchange, and continued on my own path of raising a daughter half-time as a line cook in a rinky-dink restaurant. I had dreams too. The literary life! A path of writing out my history as it happened; in the modern fashion a la´Henry Miller — the good, the bad, the private and often truly embarrassing. Unlike my great grandfather, I actually lived in an economy where I could choose any path I wanted, provided I paid my dues to the university that would graduate me to the career and/or income level of my choice. And yet unlike Henry I was raised in a community that worshiped its own immediate marvelousness and seemed to cut all ties to its past. It’s funny how Henry mentions with amusement in his autobiography that his children Ronald and Robert thought he lived in “Bible” times. And yet I think of my grandfather Ronald as the most conservative, traditional human being that ever walked the earth.
I am told by my father David that Ronald took little interest in Henry’s passion for the past. Yet I know now that by succumbing to the power of tradition, Ronald proved to be quite gifted in the art of the future. He and my grandmother Evelyn, funded the undergraduate educations of all five of their grandchildren. Both attended Cornell during the Depression years, and forged a will towards lifelong frugality. My living family owes a deep debt of gratitude to their gift, for although their hope was to secure a bright economic future for their progeny, they could not foresee the immense social and economic change that would spoil the be-Jesus out of successive generations. Still they deserve high praise for their efforts, for I believe that even if a college degree does not guarantee two cars and a garage, it can pull the individual somewhat out of ignorance in a world gone wrong. Eventually true education will pine for knowledge of the past, wherein lies the wisdom that those who cannot learn (the ignorant) or will not (the arrogant, formally educated fools), are denied. I cannot speak for my sisters and cousins, but I have been a carrier of the torch set by our ancestors. And I will (I already have) handed it over to my daughters. Henry funded Ronald’s education. The DeClerq’s did the same for Evelyn (college was a tool for her to find a rich husband, yet she chose Ronald, to her parent’s chagrin). William and Calphurnia set up James Mott for a medical degree. Dan and Sarah Throop helped their son William become a schoolhouse teacher. No government loans. No scholarship opportunities listed on the Internet. The next generation was to have a better life, but not without hard work and responsibility. Oh yes, and up to the discovery of penicillin, most held a deep respect for a god that would take their loved ones on an insidious whim. This kept everyone’s life on a less selfish, more communal trajectory. The boom economy of the mid twentieth century had the fathers working, the mothers starting to dream about work, and a new age where even their daughters could go to college to begin a career, and choose a husband who supported a wife’s ambitions beyond housework and the raising of children. Wow! Progress! The kids were left home to play all day, without fieldwork and disease. Praise the home inventions and affordable access to video and vroom-vroom. Forget about those old codgers of the past. Let’s party!
Well, we have lost so much in less than a century. Although I have not honored my grandparents with a choice career, at least I have gained the knowledge of whom to emulate for the next thirty summers or so.
My people.
Kurt Vonnegut wrote that there are more than enough world champions to fit into every category of human endeavor. The rest of us are poor imitators to the “great ones” of today. And we suffer a lifetime of familial loneliness for giving up the evolutionary
success of clans nurtured for thousands upon thousands of years.
A western genealogy going back several generations will pinpoint the dislocation for individual families. Modern technology has freed us to take a path back to a wisdom which was forgotten soon after so much of the world got rich so quickly. After discovering the contents of Throops past in stored boxes I now possess the desire to shun all imitation of fools. This private education got its jump start in the public institution. For this I am grateful. It is okay to be who I am. I am so much my father and mother and the sum of all family that came before. The future is my children. The past are my ancestors. Thoreau wrote that it’s “better to be a living dog than a dead lion.” I disagree. The dead lions live in us all, and because of this knowledge, I rise above “dog”, not by virtue of my own life necessarily, but as a result of the efforts of my forbears. They are me. I am a wonder of evolution, and my daughters will be even more suited to maneuver through life’s future challenges. It is to Henry, for his reverence of the past, and to Ronald, for his steadfast hope in the future, that I dedicate this book.


This is not a complete genealogy. Not even close. It is to be shown in an art installation this fall which centers around portraits painted of the direct paternal line of Throops going back to William of Barnstable Massachusetts, 1660. I know I have a mother and great mothers descending a million or so years back to equatorial Africa, and each of these human wonders had a father and mother. To think about the multitudinous lines connected in memory to just one person living today, is more the task for a math super genius than the hobbyist historian.
No, my method is for sake of congruity. I assemble the following pages with a loving touch to carry on a small portion of the work begun by my great grandfather.
So no hard feelings mothers and daughters!


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