The creation of the painting, “The Founding of Maryland”

By James Chase

Dramatis Personae
Tompkins Harrison Matteson, artist, 1853
Smith, an aide to Enoch Louis Lowe, Governor of Maryland

Matteson: Mr. Smith?
Aide: Hmmm?
Matteson: Mr. Smith, we’re ready to start. We should get everyone together.
Aide: Sure, I’m ready.
Matteson: Mr. Smith, I have Governor Stone in the center. Here (Shows a sketch to the governor.) He was governor at the time.
Aide: I see. And who is this here?
Matteson: That’s Lord Baltimore.
Aide: Well, in your sketch, he seems much more, what word am I looking for? More prominent. More important than the governor?
Matteson: Well, he is handing the Act of Toleration to the governor. That gives him a certain importance.
Aide: Does he have to kneel? The governor, I mean.
Matteson: That would be appropriate. Lord Baltimore is… well, he was a lord.
Aide: I am informed that the lord was not actually present. Does the governor have to kneel to a stand-in?
Matteson: (sighs) This is an allegory. It’s not a recreation of an actual event. I suppose he could just bow?
Aide: Oh. So we can take a few, shall we say, creative liberties?
Matteson: I, uh, I suppose yes, that is rather what we are doing here.
Aide: Hmmmm. Bow? That seems, well, a touch subservient. Do we really want subservience to hereditary nobility? Seems unAmerican.
Matteson: How about bowing slightly? More thankful than subservient?
Aide: Hmmm. Maybe. We’ll see how it looks.
Matteson: (Looking pained.) So may we get started? “Lord Baltimore,” if you will stand here? “Father White,” you stand here to the left, at Lord Baltimore’s right. And Mr. Smith, if you could kneel here, facing toward Lord Baltimore?
Aide: Bow. You mean bow.
Matteson: Right. Bow. There. (Points)
Aide: (Taking his position) I don’t look much like the governor.
Matteson: We don’t actually know what he looked like. I’ll have to use someone else’s face.
Aide: Could you use Governor Lowe? He’d like that.
Matteson: I suppose I could. But that comes later.
Everyone ready? Let me begin sketching. Father, look toward Lord Baltimore’s hands. Governor, please stop fidgeting.
Aide: I’m not fidgeting. I’m getting comfortable.
(Matteson turns to his easel and begins to sketch.)
Aide: Wait a minute. Where are the other people?
Matteson: Other people?
Aide: Yes. Observers. Interested parties. Participants in the ceremony.
Matteson: I think the painting will have much greater impact if we keep it simple.
Aide: Don’t you think other Marylanders will be offended if you leave them out?
Matteson: I don’t get you. What other Marylanders?
Aide: The Governor — I mean our governor, Governor Lowe — has to consider the feelings of his constituents. These are farmers, watermen, merchants, and the like. They should be represented. Also, you would not want to offend the state Guard right now, what with all the tensions on the slavery issue. And religion must also be served. We wouldn’t want such a presentation to lack a spiritual feeling.
Matteson: We do have Father White.
Aide: We should also have common Marylanders showing some religious fervor. That will keep the pastors happy.
Matteson: And we would not want the pastors to be unhappy?
Aide: You have no idea.
Matteson: Alright, we will put a few soldiers over here on the right. How about a kneeling woman to the left of the Governor? But how can I show merchants and farmers and I don’t know what all?
Aide: It does not matter, I think. As long as you have a representative group of Marylanders, people viewing the work will tend to see themselves.
Matteson: (Sighs) Alright. (Resigned) How many?
Aide: I don’t know. You’re the artist. But I should think maybe a dozen or so?
Matteson: A dozen? You’re not serious!
Aide: Serious? Of course I am. Or would you like to explain to the Governor why his constituents are giving him hostile stares?
Matteson: (Heavier sigh) Alright. Anything else?
Aide: There should be babies.
Matteson: Check. Babies.
Aide: I think that’s it. Let’s see what you come up with.
Matteson: I’m going to need a larger canvas. (Turns to leave.)
Aide: Oh! And Indians. Don’t forget the Indians.
Matteson: (Sighs) All this for a simple rendition of the passage of the Act of Toleration?
Aide: About that…