Thursday, May 18, 2006

The truth in black and white

I subscribe to The New Yorker, but somehow I missed this article in "The Talk of the Town" until Arts & Letters Daily pointed me to it on the internet. I felt sad reading this story about a maritime painting showing a black Revolutionary War sailor in front of a Clipper ship, but the tale has a quirky and sweet ending.

Click over and read the story, then join me in saluting the resilient spirit of Dr. Alexander McBurney, who bought a painting and treasured it for thirty years before discovering he'd been had--and who then realized that the truth of the painting wasn't on the canvas, but in his own heart.


Chris said...

Great story, Brenda. Thanks for sharing it. (a google images search turned up this; I suspect it's the painting from the story.)

Brenda Coulter said...

Chris, many thanks. I thought about Googling for the pic but was short on time this morning.

Clearly, I can't run this blog all by myself....

Bonnie Calhoun said...

Thanks Brenda...that was a poignant story.

Thanks Chris for the link, I like Brenda didn't have the time to search it out!

JJT said...

Thank you, Brenda, for your kind words regarding my step-father, Dr. Alexander McBurney. Your outlook on this subject is refreshing.

Learing the truth about the painting of the black sailor has been a difficult thing for my family. The symbolism of the painting has meant so much to so many people. No one, particularly Alex, wanted to let anyone down. But the truth must always prevail, even when full disclosure is painful and unprofitable. As Peter Williams, the painting's restorer said, Alex "could have kept the secret and sold the painting for a huge profit," but that is not who Alex is. He is a model of integrity, and whether to bring the circumstances of the black sailor to light was, I think, never questioned.

The painting has hung in our dining room for years and our family has always appreciated and respected it. I suspect it will stay there for many years to come.

- - JJT

Brenda Coulter said...

JJT, I was deeply touched by your comment. But even though some unscrupulous individual turned a nice little painting into a lie that fooled a lot of people, the fact remains that blacks did perform valuable services in the Revolutionary War.

Because Dr. McBurney never knew his sailor's name or whether, in fact, the portrait depicted a real individual, I imagine he looked at it in much the same way as we view an American flag--as a symbol. The painting became a reminder of the black heroes who were never properly celebrated in their time or ours. That's why I love it that your stepfather has "restored" the painting. And I hope this story is told far and wide for years to come.

Thank you for taking the time to share your thoughts.