George Washington Carver Crossing the Delaware: Page From an American History Textbook is an acrylic on canvas painting that was done by Robert Colescott. It was painted in 1975 and the size is 4 feet 6 inches by 9 feet. He appropriated this artwork from Washington Crossing the Delaware painting by Emanuel Leutze in 1851. In this painting, he replaced President George Washington with George Washington Carver, a black American botanist, and inventor. He is standing firmly in a small boat, carrying a sword on his left hip, and wearing an army uniform, a tricorne hat, a cape, and mid-calf boots.
He is surrounded by eight other African-American people. The one in front is barefooted and he appears to be joyful while catching a fish using a fishing rod. Close to Carver’s right foot is a man wearing a chef uniform and is one of the two men rowing the boat. Next to Carver is a man wearing an army uniform and hugging the American flag. The man below Carver is cleaning his left boots, and next to him appears to be the only woman in the boat, with her back facing toward the audience. Next to her is another man rowing the boat, and a drinking man is at his back. Also, a man is smoking cigar and strumming a banjo on the right corner of the boat. According to Arthur Roger Gallery website, Colescott explained that “I express myself through painting. And I tackle different things at different times, although I must say that my focus has stayed steady on the dynamics of race and identity and race as part of the mainstream, the main currents of this society.”
This painting instantly reminded me of Barack Obama and the upcoming United States election this Tuesday. I can’t help but see the absurdly amusing Duchamp in Colescott. Although many may find this satirical painting offensive, I find it very hilarious! My response has nothing to do with their skin color but how Colescott painted their faces looking drunk and happy. This doesn’t look like they are going to a battle but probably going home and celebrating a victory.
Additionally, it looks like the woman is performing an oral sex act to the man next to Carver. The dark outlines and vivid colors that Colescott used made the painting look like a comic. However, in my opinion, the clouds in the background look too dark and gloomy that it doesn’t coincide with the joy that the whole crew is presenting. The boat is impossibly too small to fit all nine people and should have caused a loss of balance to the man who is fishing, Carver, and the man behind him. The ice blocks floating on the water shows that the temperature is low yet all of them don’t look dressed for the cold condition and don’t seem to mind it.
Regardless of its overall comical appearance, one cannot deny that it challenges the issue of racism in the country. Over forty years after he painted this artwork, racism is still an ongoing issue and it doesn’t look like it is going to end anytime soon. By painting the African-American people in a degrading way, Colescott was able to remind us of the unfortunate truth of slavery, and at the same time, he was able put them in the center of the history of art and culture.
I am curious how African-American people feel about this artwork.
George Washington Crossing the Delaware
Oil on Canvas