Monday, April 25, 2011

Family Tree

I've been working on my family tree off and on for many years now. Recently, I had a breakthrough on a couple of the branches and discovered two ancestors who fought in the Civil War. Their stories are quite amazing.

One was a great-great-grandfather (my mother's father's father's father), James Price. He enlisted in the 58th Alabama Infantry in February, 1862. The unit was sent to Mobile to man defensive positions for a year. In 1863 the 58th moved to Tullahoma and fought in several small engagements. In September, the men participated in the battle of Chickamauga, where they distinguished themselves by capturing several pieces of Federal artillery the first day and breaking the Federal lines the second. However, the 58th paid a heavy price, losing over half its men killed and wounded during the battle. After recuperating and consolidating, they fought in the battle of Missionary Ridge on November 25th. Union forces defeated the Confederates and ended the siege of Chattanooga. The 58th suffered heavily: of 400 men in the fight, over 250 were killed, wounded, or captured.

My great-great-grandfather and his unit wintered over in Dalton, Georgia. In May, 1864, they fought at Resaca, GA, losing a third of their men in the first few minutes. They also fought at New Hope, Kennesa, and around Atlanta. In the fall they moved north into Tennessee and were in engagements in Columbia, Franklin (twice) and Nashville.

I believe that my great-great-grandfather was wounded and discharged at some point, probably in one of the 1864 battles, as he was married and had a child born in 1865. I haven't found any record of his discharge yet but will continue looking.

The other ancestor was also a great-great-grandfather: my mother's father's mother's father. Lorenzo Whitaker enlisted in the 2nd Mississippi in the spring of 1862. His older brother William had enlisted in the unit the previous year and fought in the Battle of First Manassas (aka, "Battle of Bull Run"). Lorenzo joined the 2nd Mississippi at Yorktown, where they were gearing up for another combat season. Shortly after he arrived, however, his brother was discharged due to an unspecified disability. Lorenzo and the 2nd Mississippi participated in the battles of Seven Pines (near Richmond in May, 1862), Gaines Mill, Second Manassas, and in September, at Antietam. There, they routed Federal forces out of the Cornfield, while sustaining losses of about half their men. The unit then retired to Goldsborough, NC, where they wintered over.

In the spring of 1864, they began combat operations again. They participated in the (unsuccessful) siege of Suffolk, Virginia, and then moved north as part of Lee's campaign to take the fight into Northern territory. The 2nd Mississippi was in the vanguard of forces moving toward Gettysburg when the fighting started on July 1. They inflicted heavy losses on Federal troops, broke their lines, and chased them toward Seminary Ridge. The chase became chaotic, however, and a large group was suddenly outflanked and surprised at the Railroad Cut, which put the Southern forces in a hole and unable to fire effectively. Many were quickly wounded and killed and the Cut became a killing ground. The Major in nominal charge of the Southern forces surrendered. My great-great-grandfather was one of those who was wounded and captured.

As it turns out, these were the lucky ones. Two days later, what was left of the 2nd Mississippi took part in Pickett's Charge, where they were decimated. Out of all the 2nd Mississippi's men who started across the field, only one was not wounded or killed.

Lorenzo and the other captives spent the rest of the war at Fort Delaware, a prison camp on an island off Delaware City. This camp was a gulag, on par with any concentration camp. At one time, it held up to 13,000 prisoners, many from Gettysburg. Water was putrified and food scarce. Rats were a delicacy. Diseases such as scurvy, smallpox, malnutrition, measles, dysentery, and diarrhea were widespread. All had lice. One prisoner wrote that he shrank from 140 pounds to 80 pounds during his time there. Approximately 2700 Confederate prisoners died during captivity; 2436 are buried on the island. Lorenzo survived captivity, however, and went on to raise a family on farms in northern Mississippi.

Reading history books about the great events of our past is all well and good, but it usually seems remote. Now, though, I have a personal interest in places like Chickamauga and Gettysburg. My ancestors were there. Those events shaped them, they shaped their children, and their children, eventually, shaped me.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Richard Johnson - Combat Artist

I just found out about the "Kandahar Journal", an artist's blog by Richard Johnson. He's with Canadian forces in Afghanistan right now. Richard is an excellent artist, a fine draftsman who really captures the spirit of his subjects. And he has an eye for the telling detail. Go visit the blog, bookmark it, and visit often. This guy is worth following.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Packing Up

My studio is a mess, isn't it? I'm busy moving out. As mentioned in a previous post, I've put in for some really interesting jobs over the past couple of months, and based on the meetings in Washington two weeks ago, something will probably come through before long. I have no idea how long "before long" will be: it could be this afternoon, it could be in six weeks, who knows? But something will. And when it does, Janis and I are going to have to react very quickly. So it's better to close the studio down now, while there's plenty of time (?), rather than madly rushing around throwing everything into moving boxes or the dumpster.

I'm going to have a studio/yard sale this weekend, on Friday and Saturday, to sell off things that are too good to throw away but no longer of use to me. The past few days have been spent in digging through shelves, sorting, packing, and pitching things into the "sale" pile or the trash. I'm continually amazed at finding stuff that I forget was here, or at the amount of artworks that once were keepers. I've destroyed a lot of drawings and watercolors today that really aren't keepers. It's very cathartic, too. The thought process kinda goes like this: "oh, look at this one, it's not too bad .... well, yeah, but what are you gonna do with it? Would it ever sell? Would you ever frame it for your own house? No?" Then RRRRRIIIIIIIPPPP and it's torn in half and thrown into the paper trash bag. I haven't even started on the canvases yet. Gotta dig out my box cutter first.

I've advertised the studio/yard sale on the local artist listserv and the vultures are already circling. A few items have already been picked off: the tent is gone, some fold-up chairs, and a couple of folding easels. A couple of ladies came in today thinking that the studio will be vacated, but no, my studio partner Christine is staying, so the two ladies were very disappointed. I've even got some artworks at ridiculously marked-down giveaway prices with no takers so far. It's a sad state of affairs when a cheap frame is worth more than the labor of love that's inside it, but that's the way it goes. If you're an artist, get used to it!

Somebody asked if I was quitting my artwork. The answer is NO. I'm a painter, even if I have to be gainfully employed in some other field. For the short term, my garage will be my studio. Once we get settled wherever it is we move to (IF we move), then I'll have a studio again. So I'll continue to make artworks. Just not full-time, and not in this studio, anymore.

So now it's back to work. Two big rolls of bubble wrap are looking at me, as well as bunch of paintings that need to be packed up.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Figure Drawing

Charcoal and Conte crayon on toned paper, 22"x16"

Saturday, April 09, 2011

Changing Directions

The trip to Baltimore and Washington this past week was quite eventful. Well, actually, the traveling wasn't eventful, but Wednesday was. I stayed with my aunt and cousin just north of Baltimore. It was great to see them again - they're wonderful people, very supportive of me and my wild hairs. And this trip fell into the "wild hair" category. After traveling on Monday, I spent Tuesday doing my final research and preparations. Then Wednesday morning dawned early. (Okay, it "dawned" at its regular time, which I'm never awake for, so dawn to me is ungodly early.)

My cousin dropped me off at the Camden Yard train station and I caught the MARC train to Union Station in DC. This one hit all the stops, tootling thru the old beat-up industrial areas in south Baltimore. I was looking out the window at all these old factory buildings, thinking what great studio spaces they'd make. When we got into the more rural and residential areas, it was pretty boring until we rolled into Washington. Then it was off the train and down to the Metro station.

For my first stop, I went into downtown Washington. I've applied for a really cool job with a national nonprofit, and one of their main offices is in downtown DC, so I wanted to go by and talk with them in more depth. I'd sent them an email and made two phone calls to set up an appointment, all without any response, so I took the bull by the horns and just walked into the office. To be frank, I wasn't expecting much - to judge by their earlier non-responses, they probably weren't very interested in talking to me.

I was wrong. I spent well over an hour talking with a guy who was very interested, both in me and in talking about his organization. Our conversation ranged over a wide area: the organization's mission, what they're looking for, what they see for their future, what I cold do for them, and far, far more. It was very encouraging. I came away from the meeting even more pumped about the organization, what I could do with them, and about my chances of actually getting onboard. I spent today revising my resume and cover letter to better reflect that understanding. Keep your fingers crossed. This is a really cool opportunity.

From there, I went to the career fair. This was a big event - there were about 80 companies who were (supposedly) looking for new hires. I had identified three that would probably be good to work with, three more that had potential, and five more that at least deserved a look. None of them are as good as the nonprofit, but a guy's got to have a backup plan in place, doesn't he? So I talked to all six of the top companies. Some were better than I'd thought, others not, but that's why you talk with 'em.

What was really interesting to me was the responses I was getting to my background and resume. One guy looked over my resume, gave me his own email address at work, and told me to send him the information about which jobs I was interested in so he could contact the specific decision-makers. Another one told me how to game his company's online job application system to increase the odds of my resume actually getting to somebody important. Apparently, I have a pretty good resume - which is reassuring after getting turned down for so many other lower-level jobs to date with terms like "not qualified" and "not in the most qualified group".

I met up with an old friend from Baghdad there. He and I worked for the same guy at the Corps of Engineers and we're both job-hunting. And, as it turned out (much to our amusement), we have applied to many of the same jobs. So we double-teamed one company's recruiter, offering to arm-wrestle for that particular position. It was cool to see him again and I hope he gets something soon, even if it's one that I applied for, too, as long as I can have the non-profit position. (No, he isn't interested in that group, so I'm safe from competition from him there).

When I wasn't talking with recruiters, I had a great time people-watching. This was a military-oriented career fair, so the place was loaded with Type-A personalities who were on a mission. Don't get in their way or you'll get run over. The newly separated or soon-to-be-separated guys seemed to be wearing the same blue blazers with gray or tan slacks that they got from Joseph A. Banks. There were quite a few of us slightly older guys, and a few who were well past retirement age. I even saw one guy with a bad gray toupee. Never seen one of those before. A gray one, I mean.

Eventually, I got to the lower end of my list of prospective companies and realized that I had absolutely no interest in talking with the recruiter in front of me. Time to leave. Since I was in Washington, I went straight to the Smithsonian's American Art Museum. Got my creative batteries recharged on Winslow Homer, Edward Hopper, John Singer Sargent, and more. Then it was time to grab the MARC train back to Baltimore.

My trip home was uneventful, except that I left the power supply for my laptop up at my aunt's place. She's mailing it back to me. Yesterday I had to take care of stuff that popped up while I was gone, namely the "Check Engine" light on the car (why does this only come on when I'm gone?), cutting the grass, and taking care of a few other nitnoid things.

I've made the decision to close down my studio at the end of the month. After my Washington trip, I came to believe that it may not be long before I have a decent job offer in hand. When I do, I'm going to have to move somewhere pretty quickly. Asheville is probably not in my future for very much longer. So it's best for me to pack up my studio now and be ready to go when something happens.

So that's how things stand this Saturday night. It's been an eventful week. My head is in a much different place now than it was at this time seven days ago. Wonder what the next seven days will bring?

Monday, April 04, 2011

Nice Day for a Flight

So I'm sitting here at the Asheville airport. The flight to Charlotte leaves in an hour, and I'm killing time in the brand-new coffee bar/lounge. This is new since the last time I was here and it's quite nice. I've got a great view out over the parking ramp and runway, over to some kind of construction project on the far side. It's a beautiful day today, not a cloud in the sky and perfect temperature (70 degrees).

I'm on my way to Baltimore today. I'll stay with my aunt and cousin for a few nights. The purpose of the trip is to go to a military-oriented career fair on Wednesday. Yes, the job search is still ongoing. No nibbles yet. Some days I feel like it's only going to be a very short time before I'm gainfully employed again, then the next day I'll feel like I'm never going to find a job, ever. Then I'm convinced again that it'll only be a short time before the perfect job calls.

So what am I looking for? Well, it's really a combination of two things. One, I need to feel like I'm making a positive difference. Just adding to some corporation's bottom line does not excite me. So non-profits and some government agencies are high on my list. Second, our end goal is to move to San Diego. Janis is from there and we have family and friends there, particularly a little grandson. So the perfect job for me is a people-related non-profit in San Diego.

That's a pretty small market. I may have already hit everything there is to hit.

So there are a variety of Option B's. These involve various combinations of expanding the geographic area to southern California in general, expanding the the pool of target organizations to contractors who are doing interesting things, or doing a temporary detour to someplace else.

Which is why I'm heading to this career fair. I've been to this one once before and it was quite impressive - it took over the whole floor of the DC Convention Center. There are maybe 70-80 companies that will attend. I've researched them and have about 15 that I want to talk with; of those, maybe four or five are in my top tier. Almost all are defense contractors of some sort; some have locations in southern California, others are doing really interesting things somewhere else. I've got resumes out the wazoo in three different formats, a hundred or so business cards, and a couple of contacts. Let's rock 'n' roll!

As I typed those last words, my airplane landed and is now taxiing to the gate. Time to close this up and head on over. Wish me luck!