Category Archives: painting and watercolors


Meekly Obstinate Pious VS The Fejee Islanders, January 1858

Unidentified artist, Rev’d Meekly Obstinate Pious vs. the Fegee Islanders. January 1858 [England, mid-19th century]. Fourteen watercolors in oblong album. Graphic Arts Collection GAX 2021- in process


The Graphic Arts Collection recently acquired a pictorial narrative set on the island of Fiji and dated January 1858. It tells the story of a British missionary known as Rev. Meekly Obstinate Pious and his wife, who sail to Fiji in order to convert the indigenous people to Christianity. Through a series of events, they build a church and make friends with their neighbors but ultimately are killed and eaten. When British sailors arrive in search of Rev. and Mrs. Pious there is a battle and everything on the island is destroyed.

The story is told through fourteen watercolors and brief captions. It is unclear if the sequential narrative was meant to be reproduced and published, nothing similar can be traced. Some images are disturbingly racist and only a selection are reproduced here.

The presentation of savage cannibals in the South Seas was routinely found in English books, newspapers, and theatricals, such as in the 1831 Theatre Royal, Covent-Garden performance Neuha’s Cave, or, The South Sea mutineers, partly based on Lord Byron’s poem “The Island, or, Christian and his comrades” (1823).


Actual missionaries might have served as the basis for this parody. From 1838 to 1856, James Calvert (1813-1892) and his wife Mary Fowler Calvert (1814-1882), along with John Hunt (1812-1848) lived in Fiji, promoting Christianity. Calvert quickly learned the native language and over time, published religious books in Fijian as well as Fijian dictionaries for English speakers. Hunt published a Memoir of the Rev. William Cross, Wesleyan missionary to the Friendly and Feejee islands (1846) and after Hunt’s death in 1848, the missionary Thomas Williams wrote a memoir of Hunt’s life and work, also know under the Fijian title: Tukutuku kei Misa Oniti (1848).


Walter Lawry’s 1850 book Friendly and Feejee Islands: a missionary visit to various stations in the South Seas, in the year 1847 emphasized the practice of cannibalism and painted an unflattering portrait of a primitive society. Here is a section:

Their cannibal propensity is well known. They do not attempt to disguise it. The eating of human flesh is not confined to cases of sacrifice for religious purposes, but is practised by them from habit and taste. There can be no question that, although it may have originated as a sacred rite, it is continued in the Feejee group for the mere pleasure of eating human flesh as food. Their fondness for it appears from the custom they have of sending portions of it to their friends at a distance, as an acceptable present; and the gift is eaten, even if decomposition has begun before it is received. So highly do they esteem this food, that the greatest praise they can bestow on a delicacy is to say, “ It is as tender as a dead man.”



50 years after: {39:2} Expectans expectavi. Dominum, et intendit mihi = I have waited expectantly for the Lord, and he was attentive to me.

Mithila Art in 2020: Life, Labor, and COVID-19 in South Asia

Shalini Karn, Faces of Corona, 2020. Acrylic on paper. Graphic Arts Collection 2020- in process


Please join us at 10:00 am Eastern (daylight savings) time on Friday March 26, 2021, for the next in our series of webinars highlighting the graphic arts collection. Organized to coincide with the one year anniversary of India’s shutdown due to COVID-19, the March program is entitled: Mithila Art in 2020: Life, Labor, and COVID-19 in South Asia.

A panel discussion including Amanda Lanzillo, Cotsen Postdoctoral Fellow in the Society of Fellows; Lina Vincent, art historian and curator based in Goa, India; and Peter Zirnis, curator and collector of Mithila art, will be hosted by Julie Mellby, Graphic Arts Curator, and Ellen Ambrosone, South Asian Studies Librarian.


Throughout 2020, artists in India have been engaging with pandemic-related themes that reflect the vast inequity with which the pandemic has manifested in the lives of South Asians. While some have managed to maintain safety and stability, many more have experienced food insecurity, displacement, disease, and loss of income.

The Mithila art in Princeton’s collection expresses moments of both serenity and sorrow in the midst of the recent crisis. Panelists will discuss and reflect on the particular expressions of COVID-19 in this art, as well the impact of the pandemic on artisan labor and art markets.

This webinar is free and open to the public, but please register here:

Date: Friday, March 26, 2021
Time: 10:00am – 11:00 am

This webinar is part of the Special Collections Highlights Series. View recordings of previous webinars here.

Previous webinars include:
May 2020: New Theories on the Oldest American Woodcut: The Portrait of Richard Mather by John Foster
June 2020: Thomas Eakins and the Making of Walt Whitman’s Death Mask
July 2020: Afrofuturism: The Graphics of Octavia E. Butler
Aug 2020: Celebrate the 100th Anniversary of Women’s Suffrage
Sept 2020: The Books and Prints of Anaïs Nin and her Gemor Press
Dec 2020: Before Zoom, Pre-Cinema, Optical Devices Tour
Feb 2021: Acrobatics: Moving Through the Trans Archives
March 2021: Mithila Art in 2020: Life, Labor, and COVID-19 in South Asia
April 2021: April is for the Birds: Audubon and Field Guides


Matthews’ views of Sierra Leone

The papers of Captain John Matthews (died 1798), lieutenant in the Royal Navy were pulled yesterday to view his watercolors of the African coast, mostly 1785-1797. The Matthews collection, C1575, documents his involvement in the transatlantic commerce of enslaved Africans in Sierra Leone. Four detailed journals document Matthews’s employment as an agent for the African Company of Merchants between 1785 and 1787; as captain of the HMS Vulcan and the HMS Courageux in the Mediterranean Sea during the 1793 campaigns of the French Revolutionary Wars; and as captain of the HMS Maidstone, a British patrol ship monitoring trade in Sierra Leone and the Caribbean in 1797 and 1798.

The watercolors by Matthews were engraved by William Porter for his later published book. One is by Lieut J. Larcom and four signed M.C. Watts.

“…By this conversation nothing more is meant by the African than that his brother, or his friend, was gone into the country to purchase slaves from the nations who are at war; or, perhaps, his own tribe might be at war with some of the neighboring states; and as they in general sell their prisoners, (though even now it is not always the case, revenge sometimes proving too powerful for avarice) they may with the ship to remain in expectation of having more prisoners to dispose of, But I must again repeat that the primary cause of these wars is not merely to procure slaves, but arises from the captious, quarrelsome, and vindictive, disposition of the people. But it is not the prisoners made in the wars which the inhabitants of the sea-coast have with each other, nor those whom the laws of their country, in consequence of their crimes, punish with slavery, that constitute a tenth part of the Naves who are purchased by the Europeans; for, in fact, the inhabitants of the sea-coast are only the merchants and brokers, and carry the goods which they receive from the Europeans into the interior country, and there purchase the slaves from other merchants. The nations who inhabit the interior parts of Africa, east of Sierra-Leone, profits the Mahometan religion; and, following the means prescribed by their prophet, are perpetually at war with the surrounding nations who refuse to embrace their religion …”

–selection from: John Matthews, A voyage to the River Sierra-Leone, on the coast of Africa; containing an account of the trade and productions of the country, and of the civil and religious customs and manners of the people; in a series of letters to a friend in England by John Matthews … during his residence in that country in the years 1785, 1786, and 1787. With an additional letter on the subject of the African slave trade. Also, a chart of part of the coast of Africa, from Cape St. Ann, to the River Rionoonas; with a view of the island Bananas (London, Printed for B. White and Son, and J. Sewell, 1788).


See more of the journals and Matthews sketches digitized:


The First Opium War

The First Opium War between Great Britain and China ended with the signing of the Treaty of Nanking on August 29, 1842. Sir Henry Pottinger met with Qiying, Yilibu, and Niu Jian to finalize the document. The treaty was ratified by the Daoguang Emperor on October 27, 1842 and by Queen Victoria on December 28, 1842. This allowed for the opening of five ports including Amoy, Guangzhou, Foochow, Shanghai and Ningpo, altering British-Chinese trade for the rest of the century.

Several British artists depicted the major battles and final events of that war, including Michael Angelo Hayes (1820–1877) and Sir Harry Francis Colville Darrell (1814-1853). One artist who has no record of Opium War battle scenes is George Cruikshank (1792-1878). Nevertheless, when Richard W. Meirs, class of1888, donated his George Cruikshank collection — including approximately 1000 books, nearly 1,000 prints, drawings, oil paintings, broadsides, panoramas, and a significant archive of correspondence — the six watercolor sketches concerning the First Opium Wars were attributed to George Cruikshank.

Recently the Cruikshank attribution has been called into question. Not only is the line quite different from his other work, Cruikshank was extremely busy at that period illustrating his own publications and creating plates for Richard Harris Barham, Catherine Grace Frances Moody Gore, Thomas Ingoldsby, Samuel G. Goodrich, and William Harrison Ainsworth. We are now researching the six Opium War sketches to find their true artist. Do you have a suggestion? A start might be this lithograph [above] by James Henry Lynch after Michael Angelo Hayes, The 18th (Royal Irish) Regiment of Foot at the storming of the forts of Amoy, 26 August 1841. More work is needed to make an attribution.



Rethinking the Incarnation of God as a Corona Warrior

Fragment from Nisha Jha, Incarnation of God as a Corona Warrior, 2020. Ink and acrylic on paper. Graphic Arts Collection GAX 2021- in process


The wonderful thing about these posts is the discussion and research and rethinking they initiate, either immediately or over time. Such is the case with this intriguing new acquisition. We are re-posting with new information and a slightly new interpretation thanks to Ellen Ambrosone and Peter Zirnis.

In this painting, Nisha Jha pairs two figures in one: the god Vishnu and a contemporary medical doctor taking a patient’s temperature with one hand while administering the COVID vaccine with the other: a Corona Warrior! The lifesaving syringe also forms a border isolating and protecting Mithila residents from the virus elsewhere.

This composite figure immediately brings to mind the union of the god Shiva and his wife Parvati in a form known as Ardhanarishvara, the god who is half female. But the chakra, a discus used as a weapon, in the god’s raised hand as well as the conch shells in the border tell us this is Vishnu, the god who periodically comes down to earth to rid the world of evil and restore the divine order.  In Corona Warrior Nisha Jha says she presents Vishnu in the form of a doctor to celebrate brave doctors everywhere, their sleepless nights and their absence from their homes. It is through their hard work that “Corona will lose soon and we will win.”


Nisha Kumari’s decision to focus on Vishnu and, purposefully or not, to invoke the easily recognizable male-female form of Shiva and Parvati, allows for a feminist interpretation of the painting. In this work, Vishnu is on the left (for the viewer) as Shiva would be in an image of Ardhanarishvara, and the doctor is on the right as Parvati would be in the same image. Parvati is no ordinary goddess but a form of Shakti, the supreme female force in the universe. Here we see a contemporary expression of the goddess in the form of a doctor battling covid-19 and cleansing the world of an epidemic. One could say we have multiple paintings before us. It’s a matter of looking. If you just see Vishnu you see one painting, if you see Ardhanarishvara you see a different painting.  Or you can see them both at the same time for a more complex view of the world expressed in the Corona Warrior.



This is one of a small group of contemporary Mithila paintings Princeton has acquired, also including work by Amrita Jha, Dulari Devi, Shalini Karn, and Naresh Kumar Paswan. Our sincere thanks go to Susan S. Wadley, professor emerita of anthropology at Syracuse University, for her invaluable help in forming this collection. A virtual session will be held in March entitled: Mithila Art in 2020: Life, Labor, and COVID-19 in South Asia.

Nisha Jha has been painting since she was a child and now works with her mother Vinita Jha refining her skills in a village near Madhubani town. She also has a bachelor’s degree in economics. “Nowadays wives and daughters also learn to paint and supplement family income with their work. Instead of going from village to village to show their scrolls, the patuas now exhibit at craft fairs and melas, and sometimes at venues abroad. Their paints were all made from natural plants, but now some of them admit to buying commercial products.” -Geraldine Forbes

Purvis Young, “People Whit Something To Do”

“Perhaps the most famous painter to ever come out of Florida,” writes Deirdra Funcheon, Washington Post 1/8/2020, “Young had depicted the struggles and joys of Miami’s poor black community and was branded an ‘outsider artist’.” When he died in 2010, he left 1,884 works of art.

Photograph by David A. Raccuglia

It is no longer correct to classify the African American artist Purvis Young (1943-2010) as an Outsider Artist. His work is owned and exhibited at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in NYC, along with dozens of other major collections, public and private, around the world. In 2018 the artist was posthumously inducted into the Florida Artists Hall of Fame.

Self-taught might be a better term, although Young credits the Florida public libraries and their collections of art books as his teachers. And so it is appropriate that one of his unique artists’ books be added to the Graphic Arts collection in Firestone Library. Like his paintings, the volume is made of found material–a repurposed book–crammed with multi-colored pages, collaged drawings, and personal symbolism. A handwritten title reads: People Whit Something To Do, with various pages dated 1981-1988.


A wonderful full-length documentary Purvis of Overtown was produced by the Souls Grown Deep Foundation in 2012 and can be viewed here: On March 5, at 12:00 noon EST, Raina Lampkins-Fielder, curator at Souls Grown Deep will deliver the 2021 Griffin Memorial Lecture at Princeton University (through zoom) and tell us more about the Atlanta-based nonprofit that documents, preserves, and showcases art by African-American artists of the American South. Register for the event here:



“I been drawing all my life, but I taught myself to paint in the early seventies. I seen people protesting. I seen the war going on. Then I found out how these guys paint their feelings up North, paint on walls. Wall of Respect. That’s when I start painting like that. I didn’t have nothing going for myself. That’s the onliest thing I could mostly do. I was just looking through art books, looking at guys painting their feelings. The first things I painted were heads with halos around them.”

“I started out about 1971 in Goodbread Alley. I wanted to express my own feeling. I wanted the peoples to see it. I put my paintings on a lot of fronts of abandoned buildings. They was fixing to tear them down and build an expressway. I knowed when I was making the art that one day it was going to go. Nothing’s going to last forever.”– Taken from interviews with Purvis Young by William Arnett and Larry Clemons in 1994 and 1995.



Hop-O’-My-Thumb Boxing Night

Drury Lane Christmas Pantomime, Hop O’ My Thumb, Boxing Night. [London, ca. 1864]. Ink and watercolor on paper. Graphic Arts Collection GAX 2021- in process

Not all our students know that “hop-o’-my-thumb” (or hop on my thumb) is a reference to a very small person. The character first appeared as one of eight fairy tales by Charles Perrault (1628-1703) in Histoires ou countes du temps passé in 1697, translated to English by Robert Samber thirty years later. This is only one of many small characters in literature. There is Tom Thumb or Thombe, who dates back to 1621, along with Der kleine Däumling (Germany), Little One Inch/Issun-bōshi (Japan), Thumbikin (Norway), and many others.

Tom Thumbe, his life and death: wherein is declared many maruailous acts of manhood, full of wonder, and strange merriments: which little knight liued in King Arthurs time, and famous in the court of Great-Brittaine. London : Printed [by A. Mathewes?] for Iohn Wright, 1630.

In the 1850s George Cruikshank (1792-1878) published a series of fairy tales, including Hop-o’-My-Thumb, implanted with his personal abstinence pledge and commitment to the temperance movement. He altered the stories so that villains were alcoholics or gamblers. Charles Dickens (1812-1870) was one of Cruikshank’s detractors, writing “Frauds on the fairies” and “Whole hogs,” in Household Words (October 1, 1853), to which Cruikshank responded with his own widely circulated letter that began:

George Cruikshank (1792-1878), A letter from Hop-o’-My-Thumb [i.e. G. Cruikshank] to Charles Dickens, esq.: upon “Frauds on the fairies,” “Whole hogs,” &c. (London : D. Bogue, [1854?]) Graphic Arts Collection Cruik 1854.

See also a draft: George Cruikshank (1792-1878), The Controversy between Charles Dickens and George Cruikshank concerning George Cruikshank’s Fairy Library; autograph letter, 1853. Manuscripts Collection C0256 (no. 36) Gift of Richard Waln Meirs, Class of 1888.


Theatre Royal Drury Lane staged its first pantomimes in the 18th century and by 1761 they became a regular feature. From 1852 to 1888, E. L. Blanchard was the author of 37 pantomimes performed at the Theatre Royal and the first to present Hop-o-My-Thumb within the Christmas pantomime series.

1861 – The House That Jack Built; or, Old Mother Hubbard and Her Wonderful Dog
1862 – Little Goody Two Shows; or, Harlequin and Cock Robin
1863 – Harlequin Sindbad the Sailor; or, The Great Roc of Diamond Valley
1864 – Hop o’ my Thumb and his Eleven Brothers!; or, Harlequin and the Ogre of the Seven-Leagued Boots
1865 – Little King Pippin; or, Harlequin Fortunatus and the Magic Purse and Wishing Purse
1866 – Unknown
1867 – Faw-Fee-Fo-Fum; or, Jack the Giant Killer
1868 – Grimalkin the Great; or, Harlequin Puss in Boots and the Miller’s Son

The Graphic Arts Collection recently acquired an original ink-and-watercolor advertisement designed as a poster or a program cover for the 1864 production. Note in particular the figures that form the letters of the word Pantomime.

In their review, The Times of London praised the performers of the show for executing their craft “in the best manner that circumstances will allow” and for the “great importance” they attached to their pantomime. The Times continued with further accolades: “All the artists are the best….The painter is Mr. William Beverley, the acknowledged chief of faery illustration, the genius to whom the ‘transformation scene’ in the present sense of the word may be said to owe its existence.”

It is hard to make out the artist’s signature in the bottom right corner. Can you recognize the name?

Read more: Jeffrey Richards, The Golden Age of Pantomime (London & New York: I.B. Tauris, [2015]),

James Herbert Parsons’ design for Princeton College

James Herbert Parsons’ scrapbook, ca. 1900. Graphic Arts Collection. Gift of W. Allen Scheuch II, Class of 1976.

Thanks to the generous gift of W. Allen Scheuch II Class of 1976, the Graphic Arts Collection holds a scrapbook assembled by James Herbert Parsons (1831-1905), containing approximately 170 sketches and finished designs including heraldry, monograms, figures, birds, animals, and jewelry, some of which are miniatures. Most are watercolors but there are also drawings in pen-and-ink, charcoal, and pencil. The scrapbook, begun while the artist was still in England, was handed down to his youngest son Philip in 1905 and then, to Philip’s niece Mary Evelyn Parsons Austin in 1942.

The highlight of the collection is a design for Princeton College (or the College of New Jersey), including no less than three tigers. It is not known whether the campus ever adopted Parsons’ design for regular use. Although it is not dated, the design was made some time before 1896, when the school’s name was officially changed to Princeton University during its Sesquicentennial Celebration. More about the Princeton colors and shield here:

For many years the same brief biography for Parsons was listed in every source: “An artist, died in West New Brighton, Staten Island, N. Y., on December 25, 1905, at the age of seventy-four years. He was with Tiffany & Co. for twenty-three years, and obtained the Beaconsfield gold medal in 1880. He won medals for his employers at the Paris and Chicago expositions. One of his best works was the [1895] marriage certificate of the Duke of Marlborough and Miss Consuelo Vanderbilt.” — American Art Directory v.6

But this is only a small part of the story.

James Herbert Parsons was born in March 1831, London, England, to Peter and Mary Parsons. He was baptized on May 25 at St. Mary Abbots Church in Kensington, and as an adult rented a house on Edwardes Square, Kensington, never moving more than a few blocks from his extended family. James married Mary Flowers (born 1832) and together they had 5 daughters and 3 sons. He worked as a fine art engraver and by the age of 39, is listed as a draughtsman, which meant he was creating his own designs rather than engraving the designs of others.

In 1881, James emigrated to New York City, leaving his wife to care for their 8 children, all still living at home. Presumably he was offered a position with Tiffany & Company, which had stores in Paris and New York City but not London. The following year, Mary and (at least) her two youngest children sailed for New York and moved into James’ apartment at 416 West 68th Street off 9th Avenue, which was large enough to include an Irish maid. You might think they lived here so that he could walk to work but at that time Tiffany’s headquarters was located at 15 Union Square West, where it remained until 1906. The New York Times called the building the “palace of jewels.”

His position with Tiffany’s brought the Parsons family wealth and stability, even throughout the bank panic of 1893, when his design work won a medal for Tiffany & Co. at the World’s Columbian Exposition in Chicago.

The family eventually moved to Staten Island only a few years before James’ death Christmas Day at the age of 74, the cause listed on the death certificate as Typhoid, Pneumonia, Senility.

Here are some of the other treasures in the Parsons scrapbook:


–mice found in the garden of their new home on Staten Island 1891



The Graphic Narratives of Dulari Devi

Dulari Devi, Corona Effect in Patna, 2020. Acrylic on paper. Purchased with funds from South Asian Studies and Graphic Arts Collection GAX 2020- in process

On March 24, 2020, Prime Minister Modi gave the 1.35 billion citizens of India four hours’ notice before he imposed a complete lockdown of the country, hoping to prevent the spread of Covid 19. It is hard to imagine the rush this instigated, as thousands of people pressed into trains, boarded ships, borrowed bicycles, and in any way possible struggled to reach family. Many were stranded, many became unemployed, and many were infected.

Second only to the United States, India has recorded the highest number of coronavirus cases in the world. Over the last year indigenous artists of India turned their attention to this subject matter, chronicling the 2020 exodus and its aftermath.

This week in January 2021, India’s health minister declared its COVID-19 epidemic contained. Also this week, the Graphic Arts Collection acquired the first of a group of paintings by the artists of the Mithila region, responding to the events of the last year. We follow their work through the Mithila Art Institute:

The red arrow indicates the town of Madhubani in the Mithila region in northeast India. Traditionally, the women of this area decorated the walls of their homes for special events, eventually putting these designs onto paper and selling them to a growing international market.

Our first acquisition is by Dulari Devi, a Master Painter and Instructor at the Mithila Art Institute. Her biography states “A resident of Ranti, she received the State of Bihar Award for Excellence in Art in 2013, and authored the first autobiography by a Mithila painter, the award winning, Following My Paintbrush (2010). She learned to paint from Karpoori Devi one of the early Masters. She is now in great demand for her murals, closely observed village scenes, and paintings of Ganesh and Durga.” She writes,

“Corona positive patients are reaching [the] hospital but [there] is not enough space for large number of patients. Four patients are in critical position lying on the floor. Some people are carrying patients on their shoulder, as there is no ambulance available. In another scene, one person is distributing food packets among the people. And then a government employee is distributing among the people. And then a government employee is distributing mask among people. Finally, the lockdown has been imposed in Patna city. All the daily wage laborers are now unemployed and are coming to Madhubani, to their villages by bus. One family is traveling on the Ganga in a boat.” — Dulari Devi, Mithila Art in the Time of Covid 19

See also:
Bharti Dayal, Madhubani art (Durbuy, Belgium: Museum of Sacred Art ; New Delhi, India : Niyogi Books, 2015). Marquand Library N7310.D39 A4 2015

Mulk Raj Anand, Madhubani painting (New Delhi, India: Publications Division, Ministry of Information and Broadcasting, Govt. of India, 1984). ReCAP ND1006 M26 An14

Martine Le Coz, Mithilâ: l’honneur des femmes (Paris: L’Harmattan: Michalon, 2013). ReCAP 14-14284


In March there will be a free live webinar focusing on Princeton’s new collection of Mithila paintings. Details coming.

Watercolors by poet Archie Ammons

A.R. Ammons (1926-2001), Sagan Moonikin, ca. 1977. Signed by the artist. Graphic Arts Collection 2020- in process.

Ammons’ friend Emily Wilson noted, “This is one of a few pictures that Ammons titled: Sagan Moonikin. It was made in a period in which Carl Sagan (1934-1996) had joined the Cornell faculty and was very much in the news of the scientific community. Ammons includes in this modernist watercolor the image of a small farmhouse, which he uses in a number of pictures as a reference to his North Carolina home [not Sagan’s], but he sets it in the granite landscape of Ithaca. Sagan moved to his house on the gorge after Ammons had made this picture and that requires more discussion and research.”

A.R. “Archie” Ammons (1926–2001) was among the first recipients of the MacArthur Fellows Program, unofficially known as the “Genius Grant,” when it was established in 1981. The poet, who taught at Cornell University from 1964 to 1998, received many awards for his writing, among them two National Books Awards, a National Book Critics Circle Award, the Library of Congress’s Rebekah Johnson Bobbitt National Prize for Poetry, and the Bollingen Prize for Poetry. Less known or celebrated were Ammons visual arts, including the six watercolors recently acquired by Princeton’s Graphic Arts Collection.

Our continuing thanks to Susan Stewart, Avalon Foundation University Professor in the Humanities and Professor of English at Princeton University and to Emily Herring Wilson, longtime friend of Ammons, for their help with this acquisition. In her remembrance of the poet, Wilson noted the year he took up painting with a vengeance:

“Moving back into their house on Hanshaw Road, Archie set up a table in the upstairs bedroom looking out into the backyard he loved so much and had written about so often, and he began painting water-colors. In 1977 he was painting as many as six or eight hours a day. In 1981, he described the process in one of the most revealing statements he ever made about the sources of his creativity:

‘The is a poetics of tears, of smiles, of ecstasy (sensual joy and the harsh inspirations of the religious heights): there is a poetics of quietude and deep study, a poetics of fear—and a poetics of anger. During Christmas vacation in 1976, I got the notion which I had had passingly but often before, to try watercolors. I’m sure I was attracted to the possibility of bringing together in one visual consideration the arbitrariness of pure coincidence with the necessity of the essential, the moving form the free, as the work of art begins, through the decisions of pattern and possibility, and into and through the demands of the necessary, the unavoidable, the inevitable. This “change” is in another from the oldest of journeys, that from exile to community.

Having had dozens of tries at real pictures, I began to feel what events on the paper “meant”—that is, I began to learn the joining of what happened on the paper to its emotional counterpart, the feelings generated and expressed by the events. I discovered that I was stirred by the thin, loud, and bright, the utterly blatant effect like a smack in the face, the anger felt, expressed, reacted to. And then I thought that not a very nice thing to be into. But I was angry, sizzlingly angry for whatever reasons, and I found myself, when I could endure the emotions at all, released by letting the anger go and become the splatters and the sheer control of the paint. And then I thought that since we must after all at times be angry, how fortunate we are that art allows us to transform blistering feelings int the brilliance, the sweep and curve, the dash and astonishment (along with the cool definition, judgment, and knowledge) of still completed things.’” –Emily Herring Wilson, When I go back to my home country: a remembrance of Archie Ammons (Fountain, NC: R.A. Fountain, 2019).

A.R. Ammons, Untitled [Abstraction in sections with pink, red, green, and yellow], ca. 1977. 9 x 12 inches. Signed by Ammons. Graphic Arts Collection 2020- in process.

Note from Wilson “I love this. Because it seems to me to be the North Carolina landscape we have near black lakes in eastern NC and lots of red/pink clay used by potters. Also sandy coasts and sunshine and lots of creeks. For me he has his sizzling anger under control with the beautiful reds.”

See also: Literary Vision. November 1988, A.R. Ammons, John Ashbery, William Blake, William Burroughs, E.E. Cummings, Robert Duncan, Allen Ginsberg, Brion Gysin, D.H. Lawrence, Henri Michaux, Henry Miller, Kenneth Patchen, and Kenneth Rexroth (New York: Jack Tilton Gallery, 1988).




A.R. Ammons, Untitled [Abstraction with verse], 1977. Signed and dated by Ammons. Graphic Arts Collection 2020- in process.

“Over a forty-five year span, A. R. Ammons gained readers, recognition, financial reward, and international acclaim for his verbal creations, not his visual ones. Although longtime subscribers to EPOCH may re member that one of his watercolors graced the 1986–87 cover of the magazine (35:3), most readers of Ammons’s twenty-five poetry collections remain unaware that he also painted more than one thousand watercolors. He did not hide that pursuit; in fact he was proud of his paintings, and from time to time, he promoted them.

From 1977 until 1993, he entered his work in twelve separate exhibits at sites from the Johnson Art Museum at Cornell to the Jack Tilton Gallery in New York City, where four of his paintings appeared in the show “Literary Vision,” along with [others]. He also exhibited his paintings in North Carolina, at the Reynolda Museum of American Art in Winston-Salem and at the University of North Carolina’s Morehead Gallery in Chapel Hill. More recently, in October 2002, The Charlotte and Philip Hanes Art Gallery at Wake Forest University, Ammons’s alma mater, presented an exhibit of fifty of the poet’s paintings; watercolors from that show subsequently appeared on the March and August 2003 covers of Poetry.” — Elizabeth M. Mills, “An Image for Longing,” Epoch 52 no.3 (2003).


A.R. Ammons, Untitled [Self-portrait, abstract], 1977. Signed and dated by Ammons. Graphic Arts Collection 2020- in process.
Wilson notes “Ammons painted a number of these faces, which seem to be self-portraits but require more study to have a clearer understanding.”

See also: Jonathan Dembo, A.R. Ammons’s poetry and art : a documentary exhibit : exhibit catalog (Greenville, N.C. : J.Y. Joyner Library, East Carolina University, 2008).
Donald Friedman and John Wronoski, The writer’s brush : an exhibition of artwork by writers (New York, NY : Anita Shapolsky Art Foundation, 2014)

A.R. Ammons, Untitled [Abstraction with nature in blue, red, and brown], 1977. Signed by Ammons. Graphic Arts Collection 2020- in process.