On this day, sometime between 1853 and 1857, Lewis Miller composed an ode to the Virginia spring in his notebook:
the Beautiful Sugar Maple’s Tres are Growing here, and we find honey and good water, Now beams to heaven the violet’s dewy eye; the bird’s cheerey melody, Sweet April comes, where the dove in the vocal grove, As April, though a cloud be on her brow, Smiles, through her tears, the beams of hope and love …
It goes on like that, but spring in Virginia really is “surpassing fine,” as William Styron wrote in The Confessions of Nat Turner. Although, not to be a whiner, but this spring … wait, what spring? It’s 90 degrees!
Anyway, as for Lewis Miller, the Internet doesn’t have too much to say about him, which is why we’re excited to have an entry in the works about his drawings. Here is how it begins:
Many of Lewis Miller’s watercolor sketches depict enslaved people in Virginia. Historians have drawn heavily on these to inform their interpretations of bondage as practiced in the state during the years leading up to the American Civil War (1861–1865). Miller, who lived from 1796 until 1882, was a Pennsylvania native who worked as a carpenter and often visited his brother in Virginia. His watercolors and the texts that accompany them are rare, because few artists of his time bothered to depict or write about slaves. His pictures are also valued for their relative emotional detachment and credibility, for Miller fancied himself a recorder, not an agitator, activist, or commentator. He avoided shading his subjects with personal opinion in lieu of drawing and writing what he saw and heard …
Judge for yourself here.
A version of this post was originally published on April 11, 2012.
IMAGE: April 11th Virginia by Lewis Miller (The Abby Aldrich Rockefeller Folk Art Museum, The Colonial Williamsburg Foundation)