Thanks to Edward Hicks and Benjamin West for these Images of William Penn and the Lenape Indians

Edward Hicks
Edward Hicks

I was searching around for a painting that would relate to Thanksgiving. For reasons I’m not certain of, the first to come to mind is Edward Hicks’ Penns Treaty with the Indians. William Penn and the Indians doesn’t really relate to Thanksgiving specifically, but in my mind there is some connection.

First, the Indians seem to have celebrated the harvest, an event that came to be known as Thanksgiving before the Puritans arrived. More, I think had Penn been in charge of relations with the American Indians, things might have worked out much better.

Penn of course was a Quaker. As such he, like other Quakers, believed in Jefferson’s words that all men are created equal—even before Jefferson wrote them. Quakers refused to bow or take off their hats to social superiors and refused to swear oaths of loyalty to the King.

The New England Puritans, while momentarily content feasting with Wampanoag Indians, were especially hostile  towards Quakers.

The king had different affections. After a group of prominent Quakers purchased the colonial province of West New Jersey, the King granted an extraordinarily generous charter which made Penn the world’s largest private landowner, with over 45,000 square miles.

Benjamin West
Benjamin West

Penn first called the area “New Wales,” then “Sylvania,” and set out to lay the legal framework for an ethical society where power was derived from the people, from “open discourse,” in much the same way as a Quaker Meeting was run. The idea of owning land, however was new to the Lenape.

When Penn arrived, the Lenape people could not recall a time they did not live upon this land. Their villages dotted the shores of streams and rivers near the forest’s edge. Tradition taught them to hunt game, plant corn, and honor the spirits who protect all living things. They knew other natives as enemies and as friends. They called themselves the Lenape, the Common People. Lenape teachings said land existed as a gift from the Creator for all to share, just as the air, sunshine and water.

From modern eyes, Penn, like the others,  was busy dividing up land others had been living on for centuries. The difference is he did it by contract and paid for it.  Yet, like Jefferson’s words in the Declaration of Independence, even today we see in several images of William Penn’s Treaty with the Indians foundations for the building of a nation, a society with at least an awareness that actions should be ethical, and a future for a nation ruled by written contracts. Of course everyone along the line wasn’t interested in these ideals, but this is about spirit and intent, not success in living up to it.

It would be interesting to see these paintings through the eyes of a Lenape descendent. I wonder if someday we, as a 21st Century people, can look at them, embrace the spirit and, at least for a moment rise above the more unfortunate aspects of our nation’s past.

About Art After X

With the death of President Kennedy in 1963, America changed. As hard as it is to minimize that sentiment, the effect of Dallas was even greater. The same year saw the merging of the Dallas Museum for Contemporary Arts, which had been central to the art scene, and the Dallas Museum of Fine Arts. Douglas MacAgy, then the director of DMCA, not only opposed the merger, but also declined to directorship of the combined museum. The regionalist movement which had been strong for decades, was giving way to more of an interest in what was going on nationally, and internationally. Like it or not, Dallas was on the national stage. When the Kennedy’s arrived in Fort Worth, local collectors had decorated a hotel room with internationally-renowned works. While the president and his wife learned a great deal about the ability of Texans to collect major art, there was little they could glean about the local scene in this era-defining city. With this in mind, we have begun a project to look not back at the art scene in Dallas, but foreword from 1963. We are interviewing gallery owners, curators and others involved in the art scene then, but this will be a story told mostly through interviews with artists active in the city from that point into the 1980s. The result will be a book with a video component. We hope you will join us in our journey. The hashtag for the project is #artafterx and the url artafterx.com will point to the latest updates on this weblog.

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