Tuesday, March 31, 2009


On Friday, the girls and I spent the day shopping together. Mattie has a flair for hats and Charleigh is always an easy-going retail buddy. The thrift stores on our circuit are all fans of Charleigh and many of the managers know her by name. We did lunch and Mattie ran the ipod, and we had a lot of fun.

The best score of the day was when we found a stack of old prints and frames. I paid just a dollar a frame and 10 dollars for two prints, (which turned out to be three prints when I disassembled them.) These are all at least 100 years old, I estimate.

The most interesting was this print, which was signed in each corner in pencil. Signed things are always a good bet. I may have balked a bit at spending 10 dollars on a print, but my instincts about the picture told me to go ahead. I rarely examine things closely in the store. I just get this fluttery feeling around my heart that tells me to buy something. So I bought it.

After a bit of research, I found out that this was painted by a Victorian artist named George Frederic Watts in 1885 shortly after the death of the daughter of one of his close friends. The painting is entitled HOPE. It is one of his best known works and is indicative of the Symbolist movement. The girl is sitting on top of the globe, blindfolded, wearing rags, playing a harp which has all but one string broken. You can feel the chill from the mist at her feet. Some people find it gloomy.

I do not.

I find it curious that this image came into my life at a time when I was really listening for it. While listening to Rob Bell's Lenten teaching when he talked about how when things are at the there very worst, that makes a crack, a space, for hope.

As I further researched, I learned that this painting has been an inspiration to Barak Obama; According to the curator of the Watts Museum...

Most recently and dramatically is the influence that it has had on the next President of the United States of America. The painting inspired a lecture by Dr Frederick G. Sampson in Richmond, Virginia, in which he discusses at length Watts’s Hope. This inspired the Reverend Jeremiah Wright, who was present at this lecture, to give a powerful sermon in 1990 called The Audacity to Hope. This was attended by the 29-year-old Barack Obama, who at the time was in his second year at Harvard Law School and president of the Harvard Law Review. Here the President first saw Watts’s painting and was deeply inspired by the sermon which provided the title for his second autobiographical book. Obama’s Hope is one rooted in a deep faith in the American Dream, ‘the true genius of America’ he writes is ‘a faith in the simple dreams of its people, the insistence of small miracles.’ If Watts had never painted Hope who knows…

A copy also hung in the prison cell of Nelson Mandela.

I think that says something about the strength of the image, don't you?

My copy is a nice lithograph by a good firm in New York City. I suspect it dates to the early 1900s. The pencil writing is likely just for identification, not a signature. If you know something about this print that I have not been able to find online, I would love to hear about it! Can you make out the words or numbers above the pencil name "Watts?"


Jasmine said...

What a wonderful story! I am tellin' ya... there is just something about old things that connect lives that are so special. I love finding old things at estate sales and thinking about the other lives it had.

Tammi said...

How cool!
I'm no history buff, but when I come across things like that, or have a chance to hold something like that in my hands....the history is so palpable it gives me goosebumps. I felt the same way when I trespassed into Radium Springs - did you see that blog post of mine?? It's like being a part of something so much bigger than yourself. You can FEEL it.

Or maybe I'm just weird.

ness said...

um. You girls have seen my junk, right? I feel it. I feel it BIG TIME :)

You should see what i found today....

ness said...

And Tammi, I "invested" quite a bit of time in that Radium Springs post of yours...I was so completely taken in by that place. I'd break in with you.

No I wouldn't. I'm a total wuss. But I'd like to break in with you anyway...

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