On Thomas Nast’s 176th Birthday

Posted on September 27, 2016 by

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It’s his art and the way he could say so much in it, with so few words. That’s why I take time to remember Thomas Nast on his 176th birthday… and the fact that Facebook reminded me that, for whatever reason that compelled me at the time, I paid tribute to him on his birthday, back in 2013.

 

But, seriously, the man had a way with sketches. Sure, he’s recognized for his famous images of Santa (my favorite) and his siege on Tammany Hall, but there’s more out there… and some pieces that catch my eye, in particular. While I’d love to share all of them, I’m going to mention just a few.

When we think of the American Civil War, Nast gives us a chance to think outside the box. Since I featured an image portraying exiles from the Shenandoah Valley about two weeks ago, consider Nast’s contribution to the story of the Southern refugees/exiles…

And also that of the Northern copperhead…

But, for the postwar, also consider his take on the Southern Loyalist Claims…

Close-up of “Southern War Claims”. St. Peter is portrayed in the scene, and, upon reading how “Southern Loyalists” proved their loyalty through Confederate service and God, remarks, “If this is the case, it will be best for them to wait till they come up here.”

 

I know Nast was no fan of Andrew Johnson’s postwar policies, and I completely understand the skepticism his Claims Commission art suggests. Let’s face it, a great many claims were filed by out-and-out Confederates who were trying to claim otherwise… yet, there were legitimate claims made by Southern Unionists who, because of early war coercion, were denied claims. All-in-all, it was a messy story which I don’t think Nast completely dealt with in his art.

Then too, there’s his patriotic spirit and hope for the (literal) mending of the Nation…

 

I’ll have more on Nast in an upcoming post. I’ve realized he and David Hunter Strother (“Porte Crayon”) had a mutual appreciation of the other’s art, and in that they often ran in the same circles (Harper’s New Monthly, Harper’s Weekly, and even the short-run of the children’s monthly Riverside Magazine), it only makes sense that they would. Fortunately, last year I added a letter to my collection, which was sent from Strother to Nast, and it helps a little in filling in the void on that story.

 

 

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