Drawing the Past

Julia Kennedy / Art History / BA / James Madison University

Mount Vernon after the midden transformed into the South Grove.Combining my love of art, history, and trying new things, Mount Vernon’s internship had me flexing my artistic muscles just days after my graduation. At James Madison University, I studied painting and drawing, finding myself mostly attracted to abstract works, and following in the footsteps of color-field expressionists like Mark Rothko. Transitioning from expressionistic pieces to the meticulous and detailed nature of representational drawings was like riding a bike after a 5 year hiatus, you know how to do it but it’s a bit of a bumpy ride. Soon I remembered my training from foundational classes and enjoyed representing these artifacts in a new light.

Fragments of the punchbowl.

Artifact drawing is a broad term that covers a variety of materials, mediums, and visuals. My first task was to draw specific artifacts not so easily captured by photography. These items were tin-glazed punch bowl pieces, a fractured teacup with the teachings of Aesop on them, and small squirrel-like creatures spiraled along the rims of porcelain plates. The process I used was simple, because of the small size of these artifacts. Actual size pencil sketches that were created on graph paper to ensure proportions were the first step. The transitional phase was copying this onto tracing paper and into a pen-and-ink drawing. Through research I’ve found there is no one universal standard for what markings to use, so many textures and features were left open to artistic interpretation, something I looked forward too. Lastly, the primary pen-and-ink drawing was carefully copied onto traditional velum and labeled. This process, while time consuming, provided the best drawing possible, capturing features hidden from the cameras lens.  

Stages of drawing the animals on a porcelain plate.

My second task was to draw the Mansion and site of the South Grove midden throughout its three main phases and owners. This was a relatively simple and more expressive task that I was particularly excited about, with one main concern — there is not a lot of documentation about how Lawrence and Augustine Washington’s landscape appeared.  Lawrence and Augustine were George Washington’s half-brother and father, respectively, who built and owned Mount Vernon before George took over. Therefore this task was more of a puzzle, traveling back in time to think about how the house and south grove evolved under these earlier owners.  I spent a lot of time during this project reading, rather than sketching. Research helped me understand the internal frame of the house and what reasoning was behind the changes which these three owners made to the south grove area.

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2 Responses to Drawing the Past

  1. Richard Seabrease says:

    To Julia,

    Thank you so much for describing how you create your drawings and sketches. The work is incredible and I appreciate the amount of effort you put into this whole process. Excellent detail and coloring.


  2. Judi says:

    Great work!

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