Sunday, March 20, 2011

A Cornucopia of Scenes at Carnton Plantation

Yesterday I went to Carnton Plantation to see what paintings I could get out of the Civil War reenactment. This plantation was the home of the McGavocks, a family who just happened to live at a strategic location during the Civil War. Their plantation became the site of the Battle of Franklin, where 10,000 soldiers were either killed, taken prisoner, or went missing. The large manor home of the McGavocks served as a field hospital for the thousands needing emergency care. Mr. and Mrs. McGavock tended to the wounded, and at dawn each day Mrs. McGavock was up cooking breakfast for the soldiers, with the hem of her dress awash in blood. This was a well-to-do family that might well have turned their backs on the needs of the "lower classes," but their duty to aid humanity overcame social norms.

When I arrived at the plantation, I found myself immersed in a sea of paintable scenes. Men in quaint attire were lounging about on blankets, forming living 19th-century Impressionist vignettes. Only instead of a park or a beach, they were on a dusty campground, surrounded by campfires, bubbling pots of stew, and crates of carrots and potatoes. At the end of the field the sun glinted off the chestnut and black backs of the tethered horses. The air was sunny and tinged with woodsmoke, boiling onions, and sweet pipe tobacco.

Fueled by the wealth of paintable scenes and the beautiful spring weather, I got started on my plein air sketches. I started more paintings than I actually finished, because as subjects moved, sometimes I would completely lose the painting. But then I would just start another. I loved the freedom to paint quickly and not mull over details.

A Patient Battle Horse - 6x8

A Battle Horse Left Behind - 6x8

Plainclothes Soldier - 6x8

Evening Meal - 5x7

End of Day - 6x8

In addition to quick studies, I got lots of photos to potentially use as studio paintings. Here are a few:

Click to enlarge

I'll also include a painting from last week, when I painted the manor house. I'm always intimidated by architecture, and this one was especially difficult, because of the shadow breaking across the right. There were a lot of different colors to juggle on that side, and forget about lines and angles. At times I wondered if I should call this one "Psychedelic Carnton." Once I got the whole thing blocked in, I felt a little better about it. 

The Manor House - 6x8

Painting the house was a learning experience, but I think my real "rush" comes from painting those unpredictable animals and people. I really should do those sort of studies more often so that my draftsmanship and value/temperature accuracy improves. Plus, it's just plain fun.


  1. Wow, your brushes must have been flying to get so many studies done! And it looks as though you had a wonderful time.

  2. hello , i'm david dean smith, the dandy in the bowler hat at the top of the page. i was very pleased to meet you at our cavalry camp and impressed with your serenity and calm presence in the midst of a rather frenetic series of events . your easel and presence reminded me to slow and remember to appreciate this wonderful life one frame at a time. thanks, GOD bless you all, dd

  3. Shirley - True, it was a great time.

    David - Thank you for the great photo I got! I appreciate and can relate to your comments.

  4. Lisa - I'm the "Plainclothes Soldier" in the painting above. As the now proud owner of the finished work, all I can say is "Thank you!!!" You are a very talented artist! I'm blown away by the painting. Having done hundreds of these living history events, I have been photographed (literally) thousands of times, but this is the first time that I have been "painted." Thank you so much for choosing me as your subject. The work will hang in a place of honor in my home!

    --Mike Ventura, Atlanta, GA