Portraits of Wildflowers

Perspectives on Nature Photography

Archive for March 20th, 2023


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My last stop in our seven-hour wildflower chase on March 13th wasn’t for wildflowers. It was for these clouds I’d been eyeing for some time after we turned north from Nixon on FM 1117 and headed for home.


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A recent post made me aware of Harry Watrous (1857–1940), a traditional American figurative painter who didn’t like modernism. Turning from style to message, however, we find him very modern in the message he conveyed in a painting from around 1913, “The Drop Sinister—What Shall We Do with It?” The first part of the title refers to the “one drop rule” from the benighted days of American slavery and racism when white supremacists considered a person with any black ancestry at all, even as little as one drop of blood, to be black and therefore to be looked down upon and mistreated.

The painting shows three people, presumably a family: a light-skinned black man on one side, a seemingly white woman and blond-haired girl together on the other side. As Wikipedia notes:

It is said to be the first known portrait of an American interracial family. The father wears a clerical collar and holds a Christian newspaper in his hand; on the wall [between the husband on the left and the wife and daughter on the right] is a portrait of Abraham Lincoln and a quotation, “And God said, Let us make man in our own image after our likeness.”

The painting caused a stir when it was exhibited at the National Academy of Design and at the Century Club in New York. “Harry W. Watrous preaches and paints well an interesting sermon on the negro question in The Drop Sinister,” commented American Art News, which also called it “one of his best canvases.” This “study in the fruits of miscegenation…caused an extraordinary amount of discussion, residents of one typically Southern city threatening to wreck the art museum if it was shown there.”

The painting appears to depict a mixed marriage, which was illegal in many states at the time. The Crisis, the N.A.A.C.P. journal edited by W.E.B. DuBois, had a different idea about what was going on in the picture:

The people in this picture are all “colored”; that is to say the ancestors of all of them two or three generations ago numbered among them full-blooded Negroes. These “colored” folk married and brought to the world a little golden-haired child; today they pause for a moment and sit aghast when they think of this child’s future.

What is she? A Negro? No, she is “white.” But is she white? The United States Census says she is a “Negro.” What earthly difference does it make what she is, so long as she grows up a good, true, capable woman? But her chances for doing this are small! Why?

Because 90,000,000 of her neighbors, good Christian, noble, civilized people are going to insult her, seek to ruin her and slam the door of opportunity in her face the moment they discover “The Drop Sinister.”

The reference to people threatening to wreck an art museum if “The Drop Sinister” was shown there reminds us that in at least one respect nothing has changed in the century since Harry Watrous created his painting. We still have zealots who feel justified in attacking, even with physical violence, anyone who has ideas different from any of the zealots’ cherished beliefs.

The most recent criminal activity of that sort I’m aware of took place at the University of California, Davis on March 14th, when woke activists rioted to protest a speech by Charlie Kirk, founder of Turning Point USA. The rioters (and unfortunately many students on campus) believe Charlie Kirk is “hateful” in believing, for example, that biological men shouldn’t be allowed to compete against women in athletics. Ironically, the zealots have pushed beyond the one-drop rule of racial segregation and now follow a zero-drop rule: anyone born with not even a single drop of female blood can demand to be treated as a woman.



© 2023 Steven Schwartzman




Written by Steve Schwartzman

March 20, 2023 at 4:27 PM

Posted in nature photography

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Coral honeysuckle flowering

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Coral honeysuckle (Lonicera sempervirens) in Springfield Park on March 12th.


© 2023 Steven Schwartzman




Written by Steve Schwartzman

March 20, 2023 at 4:30 AM

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