I read somewhere that Beethoven worked on his fifth and sixth symphonies side by side, switching back and forth between dark drama and pastoral light.
While I was painting this scene of blood and fire, I was also starting on the art for Dinotopia: Journey to Chandara. Rather than clashing, the two worlds that were crowding the inside of my head seemed to need each other, like Jekyll and Hyde.
Fast forward to 2008. The book tour for Chandara brought Jeanette and me through Virginia, and the timing worked out for us to be there and see the installation of the painting at the Mariner's Museum, the same museum where I had done the research about three years earlier. For naval history buffs of any kind, this place is Mecca.
Since the last time I had been there they had opened the new Monitor center, where they are continuing to work on conserving the remains of the U.S.S. Monitor. The famous ironclad was recovered from the sea floor in the 1970s and stabilized in tanks. Now it's emerging piece by piece under the careful attention of professional restorers. You can follow along on webcam videos.
Part of the new development at the museum, built after my painting was finished, is an immersive walk through of the Virginia and the Monitor, and a multi-media presentation that puts you in the middle of the terrible events of March 8 and 9, 1862.
When my painting was installed on a 10 year loan to the museum, I was touched by all the kind comments that people wrote in a guest book that was set up next to the painting.
I also received a letter from John Quarstein, one of the most respected historians of the Battle of Hampton Roads, and one of my consultants on the project. It was a great honor to read his words of approval: “I think you have created the most accurate and awe inspiring depiction of the death throes of the Cumberland. You have done a masterful job of luminating the story of March 8, 1862.”
The truth is, I could never have done it without the help of Mr. Quarstein, Mr. Ratliff, and the team of experts and art editors at National Geographic who answered all my questions and gave me the benefit of their life studies. These kinds of paintings are never done alone. They really do take the cooperation of a lot of people, and it was my privilege to meet people who have given their lives to bringing the past to life.
Sinking of the Cumberland, Part 1A: The Backstory
Sinking of the Cumberland, Part 1B: The Research
Sinking of the Cumberland, Part 2: Choosing the Scene
Sinking of the Cumberland, Part 3: Acting it Out
Sinking of the Cumberland, Part 4: Final Art