With the scene set and the story outlined, one piece remained undeveloped—the people. Who should I show, what should they be doing, and how can I avoid stereotyping or unnecessarily evocative images? I found the answer to my questions among the more than one thousand stories gathered from former enslaved people in fifteen states by writers from the Works Progress Administration (WPA) between 1936 and 1938. The narratives tell of the often-complex relationships between enslaved people and their owners. A number of accounts tell of black and white children playing together. The Slave Narratives also report instances of young, enslaved children being given to the children of owners in much the same way we give automobiles or investments to our children today. I have chosen to show two small boys—one white, one black playing together after an early evening rain. We do not know the relationship between these boys, their circumstances, who they might be, or the course of their lives. We have only this single moment of innocence and exuberance when together they explore the wonder of a simple puddle or indulge in a game of marbles. To date I have found no records of the Chandler and Brent families’ relationships with their enslaved people nor evidence that anything like this actually occured. Such times in the lives of two boys one enslaved the other free would have been too ordinary to write about.
I now understand that enslaved and enslavers, shown or unshown, have been a part of every one of my 34 paintings. My first two paintings were of the True Blue, a Liverpool based slave ship that sold its cargo of African Gold Coast slaves in Nanjemoy August-October 1759 not too far from the Goose Creek/Brentland property. Together the accounts of voyages of this ship and the two other True Blues its owners financed and sent to Africa over between 1750 and 1776 are a microcosm of the vast human trafficking network that underlay the capture/kidnapping and enslavement of more than thirteen million men, women, and children. Each landscape and scene I have painted is both shadowed and illuminated by this shared history of the enslavement of others—we are all stained by it. It is imbedded in who we are and how we aspire to be. Oil on Canvas 24X48 inches