Hailey Thrasher is pursuing a double major in Art History and Illustration at Jacksonville University in Florida. She was awarded the Frederic Whitaker and Eileen Monaghan Whitaker Foundation Art History scholarship for Spring 2020. She plans to pursue a graduate degree and teach at the collegiate level.
The essay question for Spring 2020 was: Frederic Whitaker and Eileen Monaghan Whitaker were fascinated by Indigenous cultures. Compare and contrast these two paintings: “Ceremonial Gathering” 1967 © EIleen Monaghan Whitaker 22×30 inches which shows Native Americans in the U.S. Southwest and “Dawn, November Second” which shows Mexicans in the cemetery at Tsintsuntsan.
Frederic Whitaker and Eileen Monaghan Whitaker’s portfolios are similar in several ways. The medium of choice for both painters was watercolor, and their subject matter was often quite similar. However, the artists employed different techniques and portrayed their subject matter in different ways.
Eileen Monaghan Whitaker’s “Ceremonial Gathering” most striking features are her use of color and loose brushstrokes. She employed watercolor for what it does best—loose and translucent washes of color. A great amount of care went into rendering this painting. However, not every detail was painted. Eileen Monaghan Whitaker allowed the careful linework to show through her paint and various amounts of the underlying paper to remain bare. Much of the painting is composed to be vertical or horizontal, as opposed to diagonal. This gives the viewer a sense of stability despite the lively colors. Her subject matter is a ceremony of Native Americans in the southwestern United States. The ceremony rendered is jovial, but not specific.
Many of Eileen Monaghan Whitaker’s figures face the viewer, particularly the women and children in the foreground. The viewer notices the ceremony takes place in midday as the overhead trees shade the figures underneath. As the viewer moves deeper into the picture plane, it becomes obvious that there is a small dwelling in the background, other figures seated on horseback, and the trees behind the figures are abstracted.
Frederic Whitaker’s painting also features an Indigenous culture. His early morning scene features mostly men gathered in a cemetery in a unified and subdued color palette. The dawn provides backlighting for his figures, and he covers much of the surface of his paper with paint to indicate the low lighting. While Eileen Monaghan Whitaker’s painting is composed on mainly horizontal and vertical axes, Frederic Whitaker’s painting favors more of the diagonal through his brushstrokes in the trees and the patches of grass on the ground. Like Eileen Monaghan Whitaker’s painting, Frederic Whitaker’s linework is also visible through his brushstrokes. However, his painting is much more line based than color based. The painting is very structural, as opposed to Eileen Monaghan Whitaker’s more painterly handling. His trees and figures are rendered much more realistically rather than the abstracted trees in “Ceremonial Gathering.” While many of Eileen Monaghan Whitaker’s figures face the viewer, none of Frederic Whitaker’s figures do. This adds to the overall somber reverence.
The somber reverence is a fitting atmosphere for the painting given the cultural context. While Eileen Monaghan Whitaker’s painting is general in its representation of Native American ceremonies, Frederic Whitaker’s painting is specific to Mexican culture, giving the viewer a clue in the title. “Dawn, November Second” is an artistic rendition of Día de los Muertos, which is a celebration and remembrance of the lives of lost loved ones in Mexican culture. This culture-specific holiday is celebrated annually from October 31st to November 2nd.
Eileen Monaghan Whitaker’s use of painterly color and portrayal of women and children outside a dwelling could be intentional choices, or they may be a result of her being a female painter—as color and domestic scenes were considered more feminine. Frederic Whitaker depicts mainly men in his painting, and his handling of watercolor is more structural and line based—both assumed to be more masculine traits in art. Both “Ceremonial Gathering” and “Dawn, November Second” allow the viewer a glimpse into the ceremonies and rituals of Indigenous cultures, but there may also be clues within them which speak to the cultural and societal atmosphere of America in the late 1960’s.