Yale Bulletin and Calendar

February 29, 2008|Volume 36, Number 20















"An Indian Medicine Man: The Flyer" by John White is one of almost 100 watercolors by the Elizabethan artist on display in the Yale Center for British Art's latest exhibit.

Show documents people
and fauna of the‘New World’

A glimpse of the land and people of North America as seen at the moment when Europeans first encountered the continent’s native inhabitants is offered via an exhibition at the Yale Center for British Art of works by an artist who sailed on one of the early voyages to the “New World.”

The exhibition, titled “A New World: England’s First View of America,” opens March 6 and will remain on view through June 1. It features nearly 100 watercolors by the Elizabethan artist John White, who sailed with the earliest British expedition to “Virginia” (on the coast of present-day North Carolina) in 1585. White produced a series of watercolors that documented his voyage. His drawings of the region’s Algonquian Indians and local flora and fauna constitute the only surviving original visual record of England’s first settlement in North America.

“A New World” includes all of White’s drawings of the Algonquian Indians; his maps and charts; watercolors of the Inuit and of North American and West Indian plants and animals; depictions of ancient Britons; and associated works by the artist’s contemporaries. The exhibit also features rare maps, manuscripts and printed works related to early European voyages of exploration to America from Yale collections and elsewhere, including the Pierpont Morgan Library, the New York Public Library and a number of private collections.

The exhibition has been organized by the British Museum, which houses the complete collection of White’s work. The drawings by White are seldom on display and travel less than once a generation. The organizing curator at the Yale Center for British Art is Elisabeth Fairman, curator of rare books and manuscripts.

English interest in establishing a settlement in North America only emerged toward the end of the 16th century, according to exhibition organizers. In 1584, Sir Walter Raleigh received a patent from Queen Elizabeth I to finance and settle a colony in “Virginia.” Raleigh hoped to find minerals and other valuable commodities, to establish a safe harbor from which to harass Spanish ships, and to create a permanent foothold for England in America. The expedition he sent in 1585 included White and the renowned scientist Thomas Harriot. Together, they produced drawings, maps and written records of what they found to satisfy curiosity about the New World, to encourage further investors and to attract colonists for an English “plantation.”

Upon their arrival in North America, the Englishmen explored the coastline and built a small fort on the island of Roanoke. White depicted the native people and their way of life in a series of watercolors of the Indians and their villages of Pomeiooc, Secotan and Roanoke. His drawings of local animals and plants portray for the first time many species native to the New World.

White returned to England a year later. He and Raleigh made plans for a permanent colony of 115 men, women and children at the “Cittie of Raleigh” on the Chesapeake, and White was appointed governor with 12 assistants. The expedition set off in 1587 but landed at Roanoke with insufficient supplies. White was sent home to obtain assistance; when he finally returned in 1590 the colonists had disappeared and the legend of the “Lost Colony of Roanoke” was born.

A selection of subsequent reinterpretations of White’s drawings will be displayed in “A New World.” The exhibition also includes a five-minute video, “On the Traces of Pocahontas” (2007), directed by Max Carocci and Simona Piantieri, showing modern descendants of the Algonquians visiting the British Museum Print Room in London in 2006. They view White’s drawings and reflect upon their importance to their own history.

“A New World” is the third in a series of spring-term exhibitions at the Yale Center for British Art that focus on British exploration and empire. The other two exhibitions — “The Lure of the East: British Orientalist Painting, 1830-1900” and “Pearls to Pyramids: British Visual Culture and the Levant, 1600-1830” — are on view through April 27.

An illustrated catalogue featuring the full collection of White’s watercolors is available, and numerous special events are being held in conjunction with “A New World.” On Wednesday, March 5, at 5:30 p.m., Peter C. Mancall, professor of history and anthropology at the University of Southern California (USC) and director of the USC-Huntington Early Modern Studies Institute, will present an opening lecture, titled “John White, Richard Hakluyt and the Creation of American Icons.” Mancall is the author of several books about early America.

Fairman will give an “Art in Context” gallery talk about the exhibit on Tuesday, March 25, at 12:30 p.m.

Other events include a “Family Funday” beginning at 10:30 a.m. on Saturday, April 5, featuring stories from Native American traditions. A film series titled “‘The New World: Colonial Encounters’” will begin at 2 p.m. on Saturday, March 8, with the screening of the 2005 film “The New World,” written and directed by Terrence Malik. The film is a retelling of the Pocahontas story starring Colin Farrell as Captain John Smith.

Other films and events related to the exhibition will appear in future issues of this newspaper.

The Yale Center for British Art, 1080 Chapel St., is open Tuesday-Saturday, 10 a.m.-5 p.m., and Sunday, noon-5 p.m. Admission is free. For further information call (203) 432-2800 or visit the gallery’s website at www.yale.edu/ycba.


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