ANNA FRIEMOTH in the exhibition PERSONAL STRUCTURES at the PALAZZO MORA in the context of the 57TH VENICE BIENNALE
MAY 13 – NOVEMBER 26, 2017
Open daily 10-6, closed Tuesday
European Cultural Centre
Strada Nova, 3659, 30121 Venezia, Italy
Anna Friemoth presents new photographs in the exhibition Personal Structures, held in the context of the 57th Venice Biennale. Anna’s series of self-portraits, titled Insight, is about the experience of piercing through the thoughts and actions of the human condition and finding an inner light. Insight was created especially for Personal Structures. The show is organized by the GAA Foundation and is on view at the Palazzo Mora in Venice, Italy until November 26, 2017.
2,048 mathematical possibilities exist for my 10th great grandfathers, and I have the luck to have one of them be the first person in America to write a book that was banned and burned in 1651 — William Pynchon.
William Pynchon graduated from Oxford when he was 11 years old in 1596. The historian, Henry M. Burt said that “William Pynchon was undoubtedly the best reasoner and the best scholar residing in the colony during the first century.”
Pynchon’s book, The Meritorious Price of Our Redemption was a critique of the newly formed society of the Massachusetts Bay Colony and Calvinism, the dominant religious doctrine of the day. Pynchon wrote that the meritorious price Jesus paid to save humankind and reconcile for Adam and Eve’s disobedience, was obedience to the will of God, and not hell, punishment, and the wrath of God.
The Calvinistic Puritans called Pynchon a heretic and put him on trial. They banned his books and burned them in the Boston Common.
Pynchon was from an old English family that settled in England with William the Conqueror. He came to America in 1630 with his wife, his son and two daughters with the Winthrop Fleet. He founded Springfield on the Connecticut River. He had good relations with the Native people, with whom he negotiated the purchase of Springfield and traded beaver pelts. He is called a “Puritan entrepreneur” for his success in the fur trade.
Pynchon would not retract anything in his book. He gave all of his land to his son, John, and returned to England in 1654. He wrote more books on religion, including The Jewes Synagogue. He died in 1662.
William Pynchon is the forebear of Anna Hale, my great great great grandmother on my mother’s father’s mother’s side.
I was researching my great great grandfather in Louisiana, March, 2000, So lucky to have met two very special Civil War historians, Chris Pena and Andrew Capone, who lived in the area of Pierre’s first battle, an hour up the river from New Orleans in Donaldsonville and Thibodeaux.
By day, they gave us a tour of the area, showing us where Pierre’s camp was, where his first battle was. At night, they treated us to a memorable Louisana home cooked dinner of delicious Sauce Piquant at Andrew and Judy’s house in Donaldsonville.
I told them story of my ancestor, how in 1861, Pierre initially signed up with the Louisiana Militia, but in 1862 refused to join the Confederacy. It was April, and the Colonel led the militia company to Vicksburg from Fort Livingston. Half way to Vicksburg, in the very town of Donaldsonville, Colonel Theard lined up his men and gave them a speech. He told them of his orders to go to Vicksburg, but explained that he had no right to take them outside the state without their consent. He hoped they would go, but he didn’t want to force anyone. The Colonel then offered any man an opportunity to declare if they were against the cause of the Confederacy. If any man had any scruples about it, that man was free to step out of the ranks.
Pierre wrote these words in a letter 50 years later about precisely what that moment felt like:
Then came the time for me when I had to decide at once. My conscience and pride were struggling; one was saying you ought not accept the cause of slavery; and the shame to appear before my comrades, as if I were afraid because we would have to fight, was a struggle indeed; but I made up my mind now or never whatever happens—I stepped out the first one in my company with cries of coward from the rear.
There I stood for a few long moments until Albert Fest stepped out from the right of the company. A very tall man compared to me, he said, ‘Pierre, I am with you on this!’ Then 30 German men stepped out soon after that. As we were the butt of all insults from behind, the Colonel put a stop to that very quickly, saying ‘None of that, men, it takes more moral courage for those men to step out as they have done than to stay in the ranks’; and closing the few of us near him he spoke kindly, but sadly, saying to leave all our equipments, taking only our personal property—-that New Orleans was so many miles off, in such a direction—-we could get there the best way possible—-that we were free; and so we left worrying whether or not some of the hot headed ones might shoot at us; but the Colonel kept them in line until we disappeared in the woods.
Andrew and Chris were very nice about it, considering that I was eating dinner at Andrew’s house, telling them how Pierre quit the Confederacy and joined up with the Union. I worried about how polite I was being to tell them that story at their dinner table. But Andrew told story after story after that, maybe to give me some needed Confederate education.
After dinner, Andrew took us into his workroom. He excavated battle grounds, including the site of Pierre’s first battle as a Union soldier. Andrew looked through the baggies of bullets, then handed me a bullet covered in white rust and dust, saying, it was Pierre’s bullet. Pierre dropped it during his first battle. The bullet never hurt anyone, Andrew pointed out, and it was mine now because Pierre wanted me to have it.
I gladly accepted the bullet for all of its poetry and brought it back up north. I arranged it in my studio along with some toy soldiers that I bought in New Orleans, one to represent each of five generations, and a broken brick Chris and Andrew gave me from the ruins of Fort Butler, and some spanish moss. The soldiers were slightly precarious on the brick, because some mornings I would come in to find that the soldiers had fallen on the floor or into the spanish moss, from the vibrations of the Six train that ran through the basement of the Lafayette St. building. But never Pierre, and never the bullet.
My great great grandfather, Pierre Gentieu, was a Civil War soldier and a Civil War artist. The surviving works that I have, that he made during the Civil War, are a lithograph of a drawing and a watercolor or gouache painting, both of Camp Hubbard in Thibodeaux, Louisiana. I also have a War photo of the same encampment. I think the photo was used as reference. The photograph (a mounted 8×10 albumen print) shows Pierre actually in his tent, on B Street. (A regiment has about 1000 men, divided into about 10 companies, and Pierre was in Company B.)
Pierre, 18 years old, came to Brooklyn, New York from France in 1860, where he lived for a year. When the next winter came, he moved to New Orleans, where the climate was closer to what he was used to in his homeland of Orthez in the Lower Pyrenees, France. He made some friends who were in the New Orleans Artillery, a state militia, and so he joined for the fun of it. They were learning heavy artillery drill at Fort Livingston, at Baratiara Bay, when the war broke out and when Farrugut came up the Mississippi. The order soon came to the colonel for them to spike their guns and go to Vicksburg, and so they left.
At the first stopping point, in Donaldsonville, up the Mississippi, Colonel Theard lined up his men in dress parade, and gave a speech. He told them of his orders, but that he had no right to take them across the state line without their consent because they were enlisted as militia for the state of Louisiana only. The Colonel said, of course he himself would go to the uttermost, and he hoped his men would too, but if any man was against the cause of the Confederacy, and if he had any scruples about it, that he was free at that time to step out of the ranks.
In regard to this moment of decision, here are Pierre’s own words, written in a letter to his nephew, Willie Weed, in 1915:
Then came the time for me when I had to decide at once. My conscience and pride were struggling; one was saying, you ought not accept the cause of slavery; and the shame to appear before my comrades, as if I were afraid because we would have to fight, was a struggle indeed; but I made up my mind now or never whatever happens — I stepped out the first one in my company, with cries of coward in my rear.
So I stood for a few seconds when Albert Fest, whom you know, stepped out from the right of the company, as he was a tall man, and turning towards me, said, “Pierre, I am with you on this.” Then three more came out, and several Germans in the company next to us. As we were the butt of all insults from behind, the Colonel put a stop to that very quickly, saying, “none of that, men; it takes more moral courage for those men to step out as they have done, then to stay in the ranks,” and closing the few of us near him he spoke kindly, but sadly, saying to leave all of our equipments, taking only our personal property— that New Orleans was so many miles off, in such a direction—we could get there the best way possible—that we were free; and so we left worrying whether or not some of the hot-headed ones might shoot at us; but the Colonel kept them in line until we disappeared in the woods.
What I think is really interesting about what has survived of Pierre’s Civil War artwork is that it was all created in Thibodeaux, the location of Camp Hubbard, which was only a few miles down the bayou from Donaldsonville, the stopping place where Colonel Theard lined up his men and gave them the opportunity to step out of the ranks. The camp was the home-base of the 13th Connecticut for several months, while the regiment swept down the Bayou Lafourche, liberating hundreds, maybe thousands of slaves from plantations.
Here’s the poster that was made to sell the lithograph edition of Pierre’s Camp of the 13th Reg’t Conn. Vols., in 1870, issued by Francis Weed:
Here’s a picture of Pierre’s friend, Albert Fest, who was the first to step out of line with him in Donaldsonville. It is from around the turn of the century and Fest is posing on his stoop with his family in Brooklyn, a large American flag flying above them. Perhaps it was Memorial Day.
Here’s a picture of my first get-together with newly-discovered cousins, at my New York City, Lafayette Street studio in 1994, cousins I met through my discovery of Pierre’s photography: Elizabeth is holding a photo of Pierre, Vivian is holding a photo of Francis Weed, Jeanne Duff is holding a mural of the Pyrenees; all these cousins were/are keepers of Pierre’s family memories; I’m holding a hand-made album I just completed of 50 silver gelatin prints I had just printed from Pierre’s original glass plate negatives, and my daughter, Anna Friemoth, age 4, is holding a French postcard of a French cousin.