Second Phase of Saving the Chamberlain House

Good grief! What a ride it’s been since I last blogged about what I’m now calling The Chamberlain Project. I need everybody to go read the first blog before you continue with this one because it lays out all of the information about why we’re here and why the Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain house is an important American landmark that needs our help. It has been one of the most fulfilling and challenging things I’ve done as an artist.

Briefly, Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain was a Union general in the American Civil War who rose to that rank without formal military training (he was a professor before the war). He volunteered for service, and then later became a four-term governor of Maine, followed by president of Bowdoin College. National history largely forgot Chamberlain until Ken Burns heavily featured him throughout his documentary series, The Civil War. Then in the early 90s, Jeff Daniels played Chamberlain in the film, Gettysburg, followed ten years later by playing him again in Gods and Generals.

Together, you and I are helping the Pejepscot History Center preserve and restore his home, which is now a museum.

CBS Evening News

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The wildest part of this whole thing is that the CBS Evening News did a feature on me a couple of months ago outlining my project and the Pejepscot History Center’s involvement in it. When I got the initial call from the producer in New York City, I actually thought it was a prank and I almost deleted the message!

CBS sent a crew to my home a few weeks later after some scheduling conflicts. Who would have thought the New Hampshire primary was a bigger story than trying to preserve and restore an American landmark? Said with humor. It worked out better having the scheduling conflict because it gave me time to get a head start on my second Chamberlain-related project, which we’ll discuss further down in this blog. You can see a photo from the shoot I did with CBS that day on the right. They were getting what’s known as B-roll of the new piece of art. B-roll is what you see on film while a journalist or narrator is talking over it.

I think I did all right. They shot about 45 minutes of footage for a 2-minute story at the end of the nightly broadcast. To be honest, I could do an entire hour-long show about how exciting and important historical preservation is, and the crew even mentioned how knowledgeable I was about the field. Clearly, I missed my calling. I should have gone to college to get into historical preservation.

Here’s my segment on the CBS Evening News.

The Numbers

Jessica Jewett

After my segment aired that night, I got a lot of new orders for not only the Chamberlain house drawing but everything else in my Etsy shop too. I got more than I expected and it was, quite honestly, more than I could handle by myself, so it has taken a while to get all of the orders shipped. I’m down to my last dozen or so right now, which will go out in the mail as soon as my latest restock batch arrives. This process has been difficult because I don’t have the money to get my own printer capable of doing 11×17-inch prints. I have to outsource the printing process.

I promised you all that I would be up front about the earnings and donations numbers. If you want more specific information, you can always pop me a message and ask.

We have raised $1,800 so far, which is being given to the Pejepscot History Center in three separate payments. I only expected to raise a couple hundred bucks in the beginning, so this number pleases me. People still buy the art print without me doing much advertising now that it shows up in Etsy searches and such.

The PHC has been incredibly grateful for our work!

The New Project

Right before CBS came to film my segment, I began putting together my second project. I’ve been in this art business long enough to know that sales will eventually taper off and you need fresh things to keep customers interested. I knew I was going to divide The Chamberlain Project into three distinct art pieces so I could keep providing the PHC with donations throughout the year of 2020.

Guy

The first thing I needed was a photo reference that I found inspirational for the story I wanted to tell in Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain’s wartime career. Enter my friend, Guy Gane, who is an actor, casting director, and tailor. He agreed to let me use him for reference (any artist who says they can work on highly detailed portraits without some kind of reference is either a liar or inhuman) since he has the same body type and similar features as Chamberlain, especially in the hands. Since Chamberlain was about four inches shorter than Guy, I chose a photo that would conceal the height difference rather than accentuate it. The photo on the left was the one I chose.

Next, I needed to mentally put this modern candid photo in a wartime context. What would Chamberlain be holding instead of a cell phone? Either dispatches, orders from his superiors, or a letter. What’s more emotionally compelling to the viewer? Letters from home, clearly. Everyone who has heard of Chamberlain knows something of the bond he had with his family.

I created a story around this piece of art from there, knowing I wanted to steer clear of Gettysburg because that topic has been done to death.

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In the last weeks of the Civil War, Chamberlain was a brigade commander in the Battle of Quaker Road on March 29, 1865. That day, he had been ordered to take the Confederate position and led his men on horseback until he was wounded in the arm after his horse had been shot through the neck. He was briefly knocked unconscious and witnesses thought him killed.

Riding ahead until the wounded horse couldn’t continue, Chamberlain dismounted and continued on foot until he got so far ahead of his men that he ended up alone, surrounded by Confederate soldiers. Quick thinking, a faded, filthy uniform, and a knack for mimicking accents convinced the Confederate soldiers that he was one of them until he managed to get out of the dangerous situation – all while suffering with a wounded, bleeding arm.

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My drawing imagines a quiet moment of contemplation the night after that close call. Chamberlain is depicted thoughtfully reading a letter from home and is surrounded by his books and a photograph of his wife, Fanny. Now that the danger has passed, he has time to think about what he could have lost if yet another close call had ended him after all. It’s a hint at the post-traumatic stress disorder to come, which is something not a lot of people talk about in terms of their heroes.

It was not easy completing this piece, on a personal note. One of my dogs was diagnosed with congestive heart failure and she died within two weeks of the diagnosis. Then my other dog broke her foot and the subsequent bone infection resulted in one of her toes being amputated, a procedure from which she is still recovering. COVID-19 messed with our household income and now the virus has spread to more than one house on my street. Given my weakened immune system, contracting the virus could be deadly for me, not to mention the surgery I was supposed to have on April 16 being pushed back to sometime this summer. I’ve also been nursing a broken heart.

Yet, I managed to finish this piece even with all of the terrible things happening around me. I suspect things in my personal life did, in fact, draw me closer to the mood of this piece. Maybe it helped me make it better. I need to believe I channeled my pain into something bigger than myself. That’s the artist in me.

In the end, this is how the second piece turned out.

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I, personally, like how it looks but there are always things I would change about every piece of art I do. It was done in a combination of Pentel mechanical pencils with .5 mm lead and Prismacolor Ebony pencils on mixed media paper. You’ll be able to buy various sized prints of the original art over on my Etsy shop. The original is 11×14 inches and has already been sold. Prints (5×7, 8×10, or 11×17 inches) range in price from $13.80 USD to $27.60 USD and are made on high quality cardstock with a glossy finish. Original art prices are calculated based on the materials used plus a $15 hourly labor rate, which is quite low for many artists.

Let’s not forget why we are here.

A portion (75%) of the sale of this drawing benefits the Pejepscot History Center in their efforts to preserve and restore the Joshua L. Chamberlain house for generations to come. The porches that Chamberlain himself built on his home of over fifty years are in structural danger due to wood rot and lack of maintenance over the last century. Together, you and I are going to help with the restoration costs. Buildings like this one belong to all of us.

What’s Next

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There will be a third piece (technically fourth if you count the church) to finish out the year and hopefully generate more donation revenue. I knew from the beginning that I wanted to do something involving Fanny Chamberlain because, most of the time, she is reduced to a footnote in her husband’s history. She was a deeply complicated woman in her own right with passions, interests, beliefs, and dreams of her own long before she was ever a married woman.

My plan is to do something revolving around Fanny Chamberlain, possibly in the downstairs blue parlor, which the family had built after the Civil War. I suspect I’ll have her playing the piano but I’m not quite sure yet. It depends on where my inspiration leads like it did when I chose Guy Gane to model Chamberlain for me.

How To Order

These are the links to order all pieces I’ve done relating to Maine. I had done the church a long time ago before all of this started but I figure it can be included here as well.

First Parish Congregationalist Church – BUY HERE
Joshua L. Chamberlain House – BUY HERE
After the Battle – BUY HERE

Please consider purchasing these art prints. It’s such a worthy cause. I realize there is a lot happening in the world, and I’m doing my part for those causes as well, but we should care about American history too. We need to be thinking about what kind of tangible legacy we’re going to leave our children and grandchildren. Wouldn’t you want to teach your descendants to celebrate and honor a man who believed in the qualities of a better world that we’re still fighting to create? What better way to honor him and his family than to help preserve the place they loved and called home for over half a century?

If you’re not interested in buying my art, that’s quite all right. There are choices.

One option is to let me collect the donations at PayPal.me/ArtByJessicaJewett and I’ll get it to the Pejepscot History Center for you. Please specify that you are donating to the Chamberlain house in the notes. I’ll send donations on the 15th of every month (when there are any) and I will give you copies of the receipts.

Or you can make a donation directly to the Pejepscot History Center, but please make sure you specify that your donation is for the Chamberlain house. They don’t have digital donations aside from the annual membership drives. The new 2020 membership drive hasn’t been created yet since they are closed until February 4.

To donate by mail:

Pejepscot History Center
159 Park Row
Brunswick, ME 04011

By phone: Call (207) 729-6606 to provide a credit card number. They take all major cards.

In person: Drop by their offices at 159 Park Row during open hours.

Once again, I thank all of you for joining me on The Chamberlain Project’s journey!

The Pejepscot History Center is a non-profit, tax-exempt 501(c)(3) organization. Your gift is tax deductible to the full extent allowed by law.

I’m not affiliated with the Pejepscot History Center in any way, nor do I work for them. My fundraising efforts are as a private citizen.


Donation

Please consider making a donation to help me keep up with the cost of art supplies, living expenses, equipment related to my disability, and so forth. The minimum is set at $10.00. Thank you for your generosity.

$10.00


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Recap of the FamilyHood ATL Art Show

It’s taken me a little while to post a blog about the art show, which was my first public showing of my art pieces. The day after the show, I woke up pretty sick. Apparently my brother had a cold the week before and passed it to me. With my compromised immune system, it took me twice as long to kick the plague and today was the first day I felt like doing any meaningful work. Ah, to be an artist. There’s always pain involved!

I was, to be quite honest, afraid to take my art into the public sphere. It’s almost a cliche but artists always say they put their souls into their work and that makes them feel really exposed when they show it. This was my first time going through that uncomfortable sensation of naked exposure before strangers but I don’t regret it. It was like ripping the Band-Aid off and now I know I can handle it. After the first twenty minutes or so, I began to let myself relax and go with the flow.

FamilyHood ATL Art Show, Jessica Jewett
A scene from the FamilyHood ATL art show that took place on June 30.

Atlanta’s art scene is not at all pretentious or snooty like people might expect in, say, New York or Los Angeles. The people I hooked up with, FamilyHood ATL, base their work on diversity with the Atlanta community and that is really important to me too. I was exposed to so many different artistic styles that I sucked up so much inspiration for my own style as well.

Speaking of style, I’ve been concerned for months that a.) I don’t have an identifiable style or meaningful voice, or b.) my faint style will be received as outdated and old-fashioned because other people don’t do what I do. The fear that I wasn’t cool enough to hook up with the Atlanta art scene was intense in the last week before the show. The thing is, I learned some valuable lessons based on watching people look at my art and formulate their opinions. My style is preserving history through the art of portraiture and it is okay because there aren’t many people in Atlanta doing that kind of thing. There are a lot of people doing awesome street art and pop art but that’s not me. People were welcoming of the fact that I’m different. I need to embrace the fact that my little corner of the art world is cool and accepted because I make history and portraiture cool and accepted for the people looking at my pieces. My fear of being different made me overlook the fact that I’m supposed to be different. Doing this show forced me to think harder about what kind of artist I am and that’s an important lesson.

Watch a video of the art show on my Instagram page.

It was interesting to watch people study my pieces before they got to me and read my bio. They were appreciating my pieces, studying them, discussing them, etc., before they even realized I was in a wheelchair. I can’t tell you how great that was for me. I’m used to people seeing the wheelchair first and then getting excited about the art because I do all of the work with the tools in my mouth. At this show, people were judging my art based on my skill, composition, subjects, and so forth. I ended up watching them like they were the exhibit. My confidence is much better now that I know I can stand on my own two feet as an artist without constantly thinking people like me just for the novelty of drawing with my mouth.

I would definitely say my participation with FamilyHood ATL was a huge success. I sold a few prints and I learned a lot about myself and how unifying artists can be when they embrace diversity.

So what’s next?

Well, I have a few opportunities in the works that will be amazing if they come to pass. One is a local opportunity and the other is a national opportunity. I don’t want to jinx myself by talking about them out loud yet. You’ll be the first to know when everything is solid.

As for my next pieces of art, I’m working on a collection. Nevertheless, she persisted. My goal is to do portraits of women throughout history from different cultures. The female experience is varied in different parts of the world but the one thing that unifies us is persistence. I want to capture that in historical portraits. If they get shown, they have to be shown as a collection in order to get the full impact of what I’m trying to communicate. I hope it goes over well!

She Persisted
She Persisted – Prismacolor colored pencil portrait of Jackie Wyers on heavy drawing paper.

Donation

Please consider making a donation to help me keep up with the cost of art supplies, living expenses, equipment related to my disability, and so forth. The minimum is set at $10.00. Thank you for your generosity.

$10.00


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I Promised My Mom

37718_454337710085_7256410_nThis is the house that founded my family in Missouri and this is my mother. The story goes like this:

My 10th great grandfather was Maximilian Jewett, who was a deacon and a clothier in the 1600s. He was one of the founding citizens of Rowley, Massachusetts, in Essex County. The family stayed in Rowley for the next hundred years until my 7th great grandfather, Mark Jewett, moved his family to Exeter, New Hampshire, somewhere in the last decade before the American Revolution.

Stay with me now.

Mark’s grandchildren scattered like crazy in the early 1800s. Several went to Maine and several stayed in New Hampshire, while my 5th great grandfather inexplicably decided to break away from the family. His name was also Mark and he uprooted his wife, Patience (a necessary name), and their horde of children, and migrated west to Steubenville, Ohio. So then his son, Gilman Jewett (4th great grandfather), decided Ohio wasn’t west enough. He uprooted his clan and settled in the region of Waterloo, Illinois.

We’re getting to the point. I swear.

His son, my 3rd great grandfather, was orphaned by the age of three if my documentation is right. He was Samuel Lewis Jewett. He married Martha Dorsey in Illinois (I name her because her family were slave owners in Kentucky, a piece of history I’m currently researching). They bought 650 acres on the Missouri River in Cooper County, Missouri, not long before the beginning of the Civil War.

Now we come to the house up in that picture. The farm in its first incarnation during the Civil War was known as the Jewett Spring Mill because it was a timber mill, I think. He built the house in the photo on this post. Grandpa Samuel had enough corn growing there that it attracted General Price of the Confederate Army in 1864, who demanded he grind all that corn to feed the army. Well, after three straight days of grinding, the story goes that Grandpa Samuel had enough and basically told General Price to screw off and he left the farm to go back to Illinois. Allegedly he returned after the war and resumed his mill and farm until he died.

I’m not sure if Grandpa Samuel actually left the farm, however, because my 2nd great grandfather, his son, was born in Cooper County in January 1865. The war wasn’t over yet at that point. Maybe General Price was already gone then and he came back, but I don’t think a Jewett would actually run away like that. Missouri folks are intensely stubborn about their land. I believe the story about General Price but I’m not so sure that he would have attempted crossing the Mississippi while Grandma Martha was pregnant. But who knows? I wasn’t there.

A couple of Jewett generations later, my mom was born in 1959 and raised in that house that Grandpa Samuel built. It was changed and added to a couple of times in the century since it was built but the brick structure is, I think, the original part of the house. My mom told me the house didn’t even have a bathroom until my grandfather married my grandmother in 1950.

What’s my point?

The Jewett house was, when I visited in the late 80s, abandoned and pretty much falling apart even though my great uncle, another Gilman, still owns part of the original 650 acres. We think the house has probably caved in on itself or has been torn down by the county by now. Basically we are the only living people left in this generation who have any memory of the place being a large self-sufficient farm the way it was from just before the Civil War up through my mother’s childhood. When my mom and her siblings are gone, nobody will be alive who can talk about all the outbuildings and what crops were grown, etc.

I promised my mom I would paint the Jewett house of her childhood. The history of it matters. I don’t have very many photos available for reference but I have enough to piece it together for a nice oil painting that will last long after we are gone. In fact I find that oil paintings last even longer than photos, which are far more sensitive to environmental factors, not to mention how many digitized photos get lost when computers die. Think about it. Art is still the most lasting medium.

And that’s why I’m posting this blog here on my art website. You guys are going to follow along with my progress on this oil painting undertaking. I’ll probably start on it this week.

Donation

Please consider making a donation to help me keep up with the cost of art supplies, living expenses, equipment related to my disability, and so forth. The minimum is set at $10.00. Thank you for your generosity.

$10.00


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