Haynes illustrates a book on LewisClay Jenkinson’s most recent book “The Character of Meriwether Lewis, Explorer in the Wilderness,” may be somewhat somber in its subject matter but his 442 page treatise contains seven pages of brightly colored illustrations that relieve the eye and exercise the imagination.
By: Sharon Cox, The Jamestown Sun
Clay Jenkinson’s most recent book “The Character of Meriwether Lewis, Explorer in the Wilderness,” may be somewhat somber in its subject matter but his 442 page treatise contains seven pages of brightly colored illustrations that relieve the eye and exercise the imagination.
The subject of Jenkinson’s book is Lewis’ apparent suicide three years after returning from the expedition. The author uses documentary data and personal writings to delve into the fragile soul of the explorer. Michael Haynes’s paintings help the reader visualize the awesomeness of the discovery’s finds and how Lewis might have felt being the “first” at each place. Jenkinson speculated their return to civilization and the obligatory writing for the president as possibly being “too much,” prompting Lewis into a downward spiral of drink.
During a book signing at a Fargo bookstore late last month, Jenkinson explained that he was not trying to give a diagnoses for Lewis, but instead was trying to document the events that may have led to his demise. Lewis was Thomas Jefferson’s choice to lead the Corps of Discovery. He was an educated man who never married, who tried to make close ties but seemed bound to live a solitary life.
Lewis was the heart and ego of the discovery. William Clark was the physical end of the discovery: attending to supplies, making repairs for daily living, and following the overall plan. Lewis was the one to leave the group and advance ahead in order to be the one to physically make a discovery, to see a vista beyond a mountain top, to meet with a native tribe. It was important to him that he was seen as the leader and the first to discover a new segment of the journey west.
The paintings illustrate Lewis’s solitary posture. The Feb. 4, 1805 “Fort Mandan Winter” painting shows Lewis silhouetted against a bitter cold morning along an ice-jammed river edge. It’s mostly blue with slices of a very familiar midwinter brown along a distant horizon and riverbank. Lewis noted it was minus 18 degrees that morning. Across the page is “Packer Meadows, June 11, 1806.” It shows Lewis gathering specimens of purple plants in a pastoral glade, against the serenity of low mountains and tall spruce. Again, he is shown alone.
A center double-truck painting depicts the river four months later. It was June 14, 1805, when Lewis was in the Missouri River about to spear a huge grizzly. Another painting, “July 27, 1806 Blackfeet Encounter” shows his reaction to death. ”At the Yellowstone, August 7, 1806” depicts Lewis at the confluence. ”Grinder’s Stand” depicts October 10, 1809, and shows landlady Grinder, who “gave up” her sleeping place to then Gov. Lewis and moved to another house because she determined him to be deranged.
Jenkinson explained this exploration did not have artists who, like Karl Bodmer, accompanied the excursion west. Lewis & Clark did their own drawings as best they could.
The Lewis & Clark Fort Mandan Foundation commissioned Michael Haynes for Jenkinson’s book, to paint the scenes of Meriwether Lewis at the most important sites as he traveled from 1804-1806 across the upper plains to the Pacific coast. His work is a visual map of the discovery.
If anyone has an item for this column, please send to Sharon Cox, PO Box 1559, Jamestown, ND 58402-1559.