Autumn in “the West” – 1841

Hey! Fall fell on Wednesday, September 22, this year, and I missed it. (Just having too much fun blogging about How’d they get here? Detroit to Ft. Howard, 1834, I suppose.)

These days—living and working inside our climate controlled, electrically illuminated spaces—it’s easy to miss nature’s seasonal changes. But you can be sure that our early Clark House residents, friends, and neighbors didn’t miss the start of autumn. Rural life was—and is—centered around the progression of the seasons, and autumn brought new farm and household chores to suit the changing weather and decreasing daylight.

So pile up your haystacks, sharpen and oil your tools before you store them in the barn, fill up the root cellar with food for the next six months or more, and keep chopping firewood for the winter woodpile. It’s time to mark the end of summer and the start of fall with a handsome seasonal image from the Clark’s era:

Autumn, No. 4: Gigantic sycamores. An ox team crossing the ford. Owl Creek, Ohio

Bennett, W. J. , Engraver, and George Harvey. Autumn. No. 4. Gigantic sycamores. An ox team crossing the ford. Owl Creek, Ohio / engraved from the original painting by G. Harvey A.N.A., New York, 1841. Color aquatint and letterpress text (original and detail). Library of Congress. Click to open larger image in new window.

If our autumnal Sycamores look familiar, they are. We included this image—and a detail of the ox cart and driver—in our earlier look at How’d they get here? Walking & riding, back on July 19, 2021. But I think Bennet & Harvey’s 1841 aquatint deserves a fuller appreciation.

Art for the American home

Whether in the parlours of venerable New England houses, or the rustic cabins of the western frontier, Americans liked to brighten their homes with affordable art, and American artists and printers worked prolifically to supply that desire.

By the middle of the 19th-century, lithography had become the most cost-effective way to reproduce color images and sell them cheaply to an eager public. Clark House Historian has illustrated a lot of posts with lithographs, including a number by Nathaniel Currier (both with and without partner James Ives).

Today’s image is an aquatint, an earlier process of color reproduction:

Aquatint is an intaglio printmaking technique, a variant of etching that produces areas of tone rather than lines. For this reason it has mostly been used in conjunction with etching, to give both lines and shaded tone. It has also been used historically to print in colour, both by printing with multiple plates in different colours, and by making monochrome prints that were then hand-coloured with watercolour.

It has been in regular use since the later 18th century, and was most widely used between about 1770 and 1830, when it was used both for artistic prints and decorative ones. After about 1830 it lost ground to lithography and other techniques. There have been periodic revivals among artists since then.


Harvey’s Scenes…

The top of our aquatint is titled “Autumn, No. 4.” It is part of a cycle of four seasonal images by painter George Harvey, published in 1841 by engraver W. J. Bennett entitled Harvey’s scenes of the primitive forest of American, at the four periods of the year, spring, summer, autumn & winter, engraved from his original paintings, accompanied with descriptive letter-press.

Bennett, W. J. , Engraver, and George Harvey. Harvey’s scenes of the primitive forest of America, at the four periods of the year, spring, summer, autumn & winter, engraved from his original paintings, accompanied with descriptive letter-press, [Title page and Preface]., New York, 1841. Color aquatint and letterpress text (original and detail). Library of Congress. Click to open larger image in new window.

The title page is, apparently, “No. 1” of the set. That page, and the four aquatints of the seasons, can be found among the almost one million other items of the online Photo, Print and Drawing collection of the Library of Congress:

Seasonal thoughts…

Each of the five pages (title page and four seasons) has an accompanying essay printed by artist George Harvey on the reverse side. The essay on the back of the title page is the preface to the series, and gives an outline of Harvey’s life, career, and the origins of the paintings. The four seasonal essays are specific to the artwork on the other side. All the essays are long and rhapsodic, as is typical of their era. Here are some of the more interesting parts of the essay accompanying our Autumn, No. 4:

We will now turn to the engraving. It is a study of trees, made on the bank of Owl Creek, Ohio, a few miles below Kenyon College. The sycamores, or plane-trees, in the view, are of gigantic growth, measuring not less than eight feet in diameter. The two dog-wood trees have also attained their largest size. The others may be known from their colors, even if their form and foliage should not convey their distinct and peculiar character, though both have been attended to. The boy in the cart is urging with a goad the lagging ox, for while he is drinking a few hurried draughts, the twisted yoke causes his mate to wince.

Bennett and Harvey. Autumn. No. 4. Gigantic sycamores (detail). Click to open larger image in new window.

The stream is represented shallow, but in spring-time, when the winter’s snow is dissolving, attended with heavy rains, it will overflow its banks, and inundate the rich bottom-lands in its passage, giving the additional fertility for which they are known throughout the state.

It is a fine Autumnal afternoon, and if my reader will accompany me, we will wander along its shores, skipping from rock to rock, or picking our way among rounded moss covered stones, and occasionally walking leisurely over a fine gravelly strand, which we find always on the eddying side. Starting from the ford, where all large stones have been removed, so that the water rolls smoothly on, we soon come to a small island ; here the stream is shallow and sparkling, leaping and glancing in its tuneful course among smooth worn stones, then gliding softly away and changing its babbling sound to an occasional low murmur.­ Further on we reach a dark, deep, and narrow pool, where its peaceful waters reflect on their glassy surface the close over-reaching tree tops, and through their interlacing boughs the bright blue sky.

The author continues in that vein for a good while more. If you’d like to read the whole thing, the full text for Autumn, No. 4 can be found and read here, at the Library of Congress.

Have a nice fall weekend. I’ll be back next time with a Clark family surprise.

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