Sunday, July 31, 2011

The Arts in the West (Lilly Martin Spencer)

Marietta Intelligencer, September 12, 1839

I have very recently seen the drawings and paintings of a young girl of this vicinity, and have not only been delighted, but surprised.  I cannot give to any one an idea of the ensemble of Miss Martin's pictures; but I cannot refrain from drawing some attention to extraordinary merit.

Miss Martin is between 16 and 17 years of age, the daughter of M. Martin, who lives on a farm, very retired, and in rather plain but rural style.  His daughter has been required to share the toil of the house and field, and with little opportunity to study, and with no one to teach, she has found sufficient leisure to display extraordinary taste, talent, and genius.

Her first work was on the unwhitened plastered wall of her chamber.  She commenced with a piece of charcoal and common chalk, using her finger to stamp with.  She has recently obtained some poor crayon and a few paints and brushes.  With these instruments, she has covered the sides of her room with splendid pictures.  Some of her drawings are copied from an old annual, but most of them are entirely the creation of her own fancy, or the scene described in some book she has read.  One side of the room presents a view from a public piazza out upon a water scene bordered by hill and dale, and field and forest; all original, and beautifully conceived.  Groups are presented on the piazza, in various employments, and the figures present not only an accurate proportion, but some of them are shaded and finished in the most exquisite manner.  There are some talking politics and some making love.  One picture presents a boy playing with the dog and cat; the dog and cat are fighting, and the boy has thrown his cap over the head of the dog, and is exulting at the advantage thus given to puss.

There is a large picture on another side, "la premier pas."  A child, with laughing eye, but timid look, is adventuring a first step.  The mother is bending over it to prevent a fall, and a little sister is coaxing it forward, with open arms ready to receive it.  Puss is sitting in a chair, a careless observer of the scene.

And there is a moonlight scene; I will call it "the serenade," in which there is much taste and skill of design and execution.

On the other side is a tragic scene, suggested from reading a romance, difficult but well delineated.  The figures stand out from the wall, and the countenances bear the impress of the passion designed to be expressed.

But the best hit of all is "the young baker."  Mrs. Martin had sent her daughter to make bread, and while engaged, the child (for she has only the appearance of a child,) conceived the idea of drawing a like figure on the wall.  And there it is, not in rude unfinished outline, but a well finished and most strikingly rich crayon drawing.  This picture being alone, in a rough room, full of barrels, meal tubs, and rubbish, and being drawn on the rough plaster, has the most extraordinary effect.  It represents a girl with a very pretty face, bending over her work, her hair disheveled and yet ornamental; the cape tied loose about her neck, and turned round to the side, sleeves rolled up, and both hands delving in the dough.  One could not conceive of any thing more natural.  This picture, alone, is worthy of more than I can write, and no one can have any idea of it without seeing it.

I can only say, that the circumstances of this display of talent are the most extraordinary.  I cannot associate the work and the author together, so strange is the contrast!  One gazes at the pictures and glances at the child, who appears to gaze totally unconscious of the merit they possess.

Morton, en passant.

The opinion of Morton is so much more valuable than our own, that we give his communication a place to the exclusion of some matter we had prepared upon the same subject.

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