Katherine Prior, a sophomore at Fashion Institute of Technology in New York, received an honorable mention award for Art History from the Frederic Whitaker and Eileen Monaghan Whitaker Foundation.
She wrote in her student statement: “I was fortunate to grow up surrounded by the arts. I was homeschooled, so I was able to travel through Europe and over the United States because of my father’s job. In every place my family went, we always went to as many art museums as possible. I had taken art and music classes throughout middle and high school, so when it was time to apply for college, I knew I wanted to continue in the arts. I applied and was accepted into the Illustration program at the Fashion Institute of Technology. And it was there that I was truly for the first time exposed to studying art history.”
After receiving her Associate Degree in Illustration, she will complete her Bachelor’s degree in Art History & Museum Professions. Eventually she would like to go to Harvard for a graduate degree.
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.
While both “Ceremonial Gathering” and “Dawn, November Second” contain many of the same elements and artistic techniques—they are both executed in watercolor, both utilize atmospheric perspective, and both feature Indigenous peoples set against a backdrop of trees—they are different in many ways.
The greatest organizing principle with which these two paintings differ is in their mood and treatment of the subjects. Eileen Monaghan Whitaker’s “Ceremonial Gathering” is a much lighter piece. The composition is airy, with much of the background left to the paper. The colors, even in their desaturated forms, flicker with vibrancy. The trees, particularly, pop with late 60s aesthetic. Many of the figures in the scene have their faces to the viewer, though most of them carry on their way, talking amongst themselves and gathering together.
Frederic Whitaker’s “Dawn, November Second,” however, takes a much darker and deeper approach. Rather than utilizing the light of the paper for air in the piece, Frederic Whitaker constrains it to the center of the composition. It is the one brief respite against the heaviness of the shadows. The colors he uses are dark and desaturated. Yet, like in “Ceremonial Gathering,” he still retains a color intensity that keeps a sense of the color in the subjects’ garb. In extreme contrast to the playful trees in Eileen Whitaker’s piece, Frederic Whitaker’s trees are ragged and weather-worn. His piece, too, features a gathering, but not a joyful one. The figures all have their backs to the viewer. The lone figures hunch over while the groups collect tightly together.
While both pieces utilize atmospheric perspective to place the trees and crowds into the background, each does so with a different overall effect on the piece. Eileen Whitaker keeps the vibrancy of the colors, instead using the cooler temperatures and closer values to create the separation of foreground and background. Frederic Whitaker, on the other hand, relies primarily on the desaturation of the color for separation. He does so much less gradually than Eileen Whitaker does, as well, creating a much flatter and horizontal composition.
A surprising contrast between the two pieces has to do with the scenes depicted in them. “Ceremonial Gathering” seems to be a much more pleasant community event than does the funeral of “Dawn, November Second,” yet it is the latter in which the viewer is largely ignored. Rather than the viewer being stared at as an unwelcome guest or intruder, the figures in Frederic Whitaker’s piece don’t appear to care much about who is watching them. They sit in relaxed positions, lost in their own thoughts. It is in Eileen Whitaker’s piece that the viewer’s intrusion is directly acknowledged. The two women in the foreground appear as they might in a photo—caught in the moment, looking straight at the camera. This difference may have to do as well with the populations represented in each piece. In “Ceremonial Gathering,” the piece is populated most clearly by women and children—particularly young women. This creates a very different scenario of intrusion than that of “Dawn, November Second,” the foreground of which is filled with mens’ wide-brimmed hats. Androgynous, faceless figures fill the background.
The treatment of the figures additionally comes into play when comparing the styles of the pieces. Eileen Whitaker employs a much more journalistic approach, with the painting appearing as it might in a sketchbook. There is certainly much more detail in the faces and fabrics than in Frederic Whitaker’s piece, but Eileen Whitaker’s painting takes on an impressionistic quality. Frederic Whitaker’s painting is much heavier, appearing to be painted in several glazes of color. His artistic choices serve the particular mood—from the sparsely-detailed figures that appear ever far away from the viewer, to the muted color palette that brings an additional perceived element of distance.
While both Eileen Monaghan Whitaker’s “Ceremonial Gathering” and Frederic Whitaker’s “Dawn, November Second,” appear to contain similar elements, their differences are many. The moods they create, the styles they employ, and the level of interaction with the figures they incorporate solidify them as distinctly separate artistic representations of cultural gatherings of Indigenous peoples.