Steamboats in Murals
Bryan Boyd's painting of the MITTIE STEPHENS & Suzy Guese's photo of the Auntie Skinner's Riverboat Club mural
Introduction to Bryan Boyd's painting "JEFFERSON TEXAS, 1868":
Thirty years ago, right before his 26th birthday, Bryan Boyd conceptualized an idea that would take him the next ten months to complete.
It was a dream inspired by our East Texas history that included one of his favorite local towns, Jefferson Texas. He became inspired to recreate a scene out of history. The Mittie Stephens was a steamboat that would occasionally dock in Jefferson with passengers and cargo on board.
Bryan eventually learned that there was really no visual records of the historical event. He set out to research and recreate this moment in time.
(For the full text of the article and accompanying illustrations visit this link):
Photo by Suzy Guese of a mural featuring the ill-fated steamer MITTIE STEPHENS on an exterior wall of Auntie Skinner's Riverboat Club, a restaurant and bar in Jefferson, Texas on the Big Cypress River where steamboats traveled between the town and New Orleans.
"Rollicking watering hole in a converted 19th-century warehouse with pub grub amp; music on weekends."
107 West Austin Street Jefferson, Texas 75657
Riverport to the Southwest
Welcome to the City of Jefferson, Texas, "Riverport to the Southwest." At a time when steamboats plied the Big Cypress River from the Port of New Orleans, true Southern gentility was the order of the day. This sense of timelessness prevails even unto today. Let yourself be whisked away to a land not far away as you glide peacefully along in an open-air riverboat where Jefferson's colorful past comes alive.
THE MITTIE STEPHENS DISASTER
by Archie P. McDonald, PhD
On February 12, 1869, a fire burned the MITTIE STEPHENS to the waterline in Caddo Lake.
Robert Fulton won the technological race to find a way to utilize steam power for transportation when he successfully sailed the Clermont on the Hudson River 1807. He did not solve another problem: how to make such travel safe.
When we remember steamboat accidents, most of us think about boiler explosions, which resulted from excessive pressure or faulty equipment, or both. But the boiler was working well on the side-wheeler MITTIE STEPHENS on February 12, 1869, and did not explode: instead, a fire burned her to the waterline in Caddo Lake near the Texas-Louisiana border.
Steamboats became pervasive on America's inland waters during the first half of the nineteenth century. Moving passengers and cargo over water was also slower. But with only animal powered wagons, and after 1837 the "iron horse" railroads as competitors, steamboats proliferated and their owners prospered. Still, there was danger on the water.
The MITTIE STEPHENS came out of a shipyard in Madison, Indiana, in 1863, in time to be a part of the effort to preserve the Union. She served as a naval packet for a year, but after the failure of the Red River Campaign in 1864 she was sold. Civilian owners used her on the Missouri River and then stationed her in New Orleans.
In 1866, the STEPHENS began regular round trips between New Orleans and Jefferson, Texas, via the Mississippi and Red rivers and Cypress Bayou. Her last voyage began on February 5, 1869. Seven nights later, she steamed on Caddo Lake near her destination with 107 passengers and crew, plus cargo, which included hay stacked on deck. Sparks from a torch basket located on the bow to illuminate the ship blew in the wind to the dry hay, ignited, and a conflagration resulted.
The helmsman steered for shore but the ship "grounded." That meant that passengers might have saved themselves by jumping overboard and wading to shore. But the side-mounted paddlewheels kept turning in an effort to force the ship on to shore, and many who leapt overboard were sucked into the wheel. Sixty-one people perished.
The STEPHENS burned to the water line, though parts of her, including the bell, and some machinery, were salvaged. Her remains remind those who visit the lake of the dangers that await those who move upon the waters well into the twentieth century.
I took these photos of murals at the Arabia museum when I visited during the 1990's. The steamboat Arabia sank in the Missouri River near Kansas City on September 5, 1856, carrying 200 tons of cargo. Lost for 132 years, she was unearthed in 1988. Well preserved clothes, tools, guns, dishware have been salvaged and are on display along with the engines and other remains of the boat itself at the Arabia Museum in Kansas City. Their website is 1856.com.
Artist O.E. Berninghaus painted a mural of the St. Louis levee (above) upon which he based his panoramic promotional art for the Anheuser-Busch company (below)
1914 Anheuser-Busch also produced a serving tray which Berninghaus himself apparently refined and smoothed down from it's appearance in the panoramic lithograph, brightening the colors and extending the sky to fill the tray's rectangular format.
On Apr 16, 2016, at 1:22 PM, John R. wrote:Editor's Note: Thank you John for this information!
FROM ARCHIVES OF AMERICAN ART:
William E. L. Bunn (1910-2009) was a designer, muralist, and painter in Ft. Madison, Iowa and Ojai, California. Bunn was born in Muscatine, Iowa and received his B.A. in Graphic and Plastic Arts and an M.A. in Theater Design, both from the University of Iowa.
In 1937 he was awarded a one-year post-graduate fellowship as an art intern for Grant Wood.
From 1938 to 1942 he won four commissions from the Treasury Department to produce murals for Federal buildings.
He also exhibited paintings, primarily depicting Mississippi River steamboats, at the National Academy of Design, Art Institute of Chicago, Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts, and other group shows.
Beginning in 1943 Bunn worked as an industrial designer at several companies including Sheaffer Pen Company (1946-1967) and Cuckler Steele Span Company (1967-1977).
After his retirement, he and his wife, Annavene, moved to California, and he continued to paint. Bunn was also active in the Theosophical Society and had an interest in aviation.
LIFE magazine featured two photos of William Bunn (one is included above) and his majestic steamboat paintings the October 14, 1940 issue. Below is the text from that "Art" feature. The mural entitled MISSISSIPPI PACKETS was a work in progress (J.M. WHITE at center) behind Bunn at his studio in Iowa City, Iowa in the photograph and it was installed in 1940 in the U.S. post office in Hickman, Kentucky. The completed work is in the lower left. A mural of a head-on view of the steamboat DUBUQUE painted in 1936 is in the U.S. post office at Dubuque, Iowa. In the LIFE issue there are three color images of Bunn's paintings, two of those are presented on the right. A "study" drawing of the high angle view of the DUBUQUE (in color on the right) can be seen behind Bill's left leg in the photo.
LIFE magazine 14 October, 1940
WILLIAM BUNN'S MISSISSIPPI STEAMBOATS RECALL THE GLORIES OF BYGONE DAYS
"When I was a youngster," says Painter William Bunn who grew up in Muscatine, Iowa, "my buddies and I always headed for the river after school. We would row across to the Illinois shore or out to Towhead Island where Mark Twain used to play as a boy. We absorbed all the sights and smells and sounds of the Mississippi it was the one great dominating influence of my life."
This river influence had made Bill Bunn at 30 a specialist in painting old time Mississippi steamboats. His murals are to be installed in Iowa and Kentucky, and next year he will hold his first one-man show in New York City.
Bunn's boats evoke a vanished era in American life when the great floating palaces set a standard for elegance. They served the finest Southern cooking. At night as the dark shores slipped by, their decks were aglow with lanterns and passengers danced to banjos. In the sunlight they glistened like wedding cakes with their gilded gingerbread. Almost every trip brought adventure. There were gamblers aboard. Courtships flourished in the long lazy days. Rich planters, who were given free trips as a bonus for their shipments, sometimes took their wives, sometimes did not. Once in a while one of the boats exploded and burst into flame. At the end of the run, gay as a foreign capital, was New Orleans.
With a historian's zeal, Bill Bunn reconstructs his steamboats from old drawings and photographs or from boat-builders' original plans. He paints them in a clean, ship-shape style that shows his five years of study with Grant Wood in Iowa City. This month Bunn and his 19-year-old wife will sail their own boat from Lake Itasca, where the Mississippi begins, 2,500 miles down to New Orleans. If they run out of money, Bunn says he will do portrait sketches on the way or set up his portable Punch and Judy show and perform for youngsters along the river front.
Detail of the Mark Twain mural in the Missouri Governor's office.
The 1940 WPA mural of the Mississippi river city of Cape Girardeau entitled "METROPOLIS" attracted my attention because of the towboat in the lower left and the packet boat lower center on a current postcard promoting the Missouri Preservation Conference to be held in Cape Girardeau in October, 2015. I contacted Missouri Preservation and both Katie Graebe and Bill Hart responded to my inquiries. Bill's comments below:
Cape Girardeau as it was appeared in the mural METROPOLIS in 1940, was created as part of a WPA project. Today, some of the buildings are missing, but very many of these structures still exist. Of course the river port is no longer filled with so many boats and so much activity. The train depot (red brick in the center) is gone, as well as the factory building in the far right. The old St. Francis Hospital in the far left at top is gone, as is the old bridge, which was pretty new at the time of the painting.
But the Court of Common Pleas, top and center is still there, as is the building to its right, the Southeast Missourian Building. Going right from there, the Marquette Hotel (just to the left of the smoke stack smoke) is still there, and just above, the domed Academic Hall at Southeast Missouri has recently been renovated. Coming down the hill from the old Marquette Hotel, the Presbyterian and Lutheran church buildings are still there. To the left of the old train depot are the B'Nai El Temple and St. Vincent's Cathedral, both of which are still shining.
Located in the Historic Katy Depot
320 First Street
Boonville, Missouri 65233
In 2004 Ed Garbert (1928-2015) and I used our computers to create this panoramic re-creation of how we speculated Hannibal, Missouri probably looked in July of 1848 based on drawings made by English artist Henry Lewis (1819-1904) when he traveled down the Mississippi River from St. Paul to New Orleans sketching rivertowns and cities. Returning to England Lewis used his own sketches as reference to paint with the help of assistants, a huge touring panorama of the Mississippi River that he presented as a narrated traveling show in European cities. The long canvas was 12-feet-high by 1,250 yards long that was exhibited by cranking the "panorama" from left to right between vertical rollers and was lit by the stage footlights of the time. Lewis also made 80 individual color lithographs of selected rivertowns, cities and scenic landmarks that were published first in an 1854 German edition entitled VALLEY OF THE MISSISSIPPI ILLUSTRATED and later in an English edition.
Steve Railton at the University of Virginia has included our panorama in the portion of his Mark Twain site devoted to Sam Clemens, Hannibal, MO and how Mark Twain's memories of the town and the Mississippi provided the inspiration for the adventures of Tom Sawyer, Huckleberry Finn, Pudd'nhead Wilson as well as anecdotes that he included in his correspondence, his travel books and his autobiographical writings.
According to Dave Thomson, this representation of Hannibal is based on Henry Lewis' sketchbook pages of 31 July 1848:
"The panorama was done in the style of a post office mural from the Depression-era WPA. The white building above the steamboat paddle box represents the office of Justice of the Peace J. M. Clemens (Sam's father). The Clemens family lived one block further back from the river.
"Using the 1854 map of Hart and Mapother as well as Ruger's 1869 bird's eye view I determined as closely as possible the materials the depicted buildings were made of, brick predominating with the white and gray buildings constructed from wood. The buildings on the far left are the pork slaughtering and packing business. The building on the far right I believe was a sawmill. Other pork packing businesses and a tobacco factory most likely occupied the neighboring buildings on the far right. The other brick structures would have been occupied by hostelries, merchants and tradesmen, warehouse facilities, & Co. As a foreground focal point I added the steamboat "Missouri" (aka the "Big Missouri"), which operated on the Mississippi from 1845-1851. The "Big Missouri" is the boat Ben Rogers "personates" in Chapter 2 of Tom Sawyer.
"The image was colorized with the help of my friend Ed Garbert. We put the light source in the east, as the village would appear in the morning (and since the town is laid out at a northwest to southeast angle parallel to the river, this is how the buildings are lit to best advantage). Ed 'painted' the majority of the buildings with a Photoshop program and I modified the foliage, added the steamboat and modified the color scheme.
"The National Geographic article 'The Mighty Mississippi' (1971) reproduces the two pages from Lewis' sketchbook on which this picture is based. My original black and white rendering of this scene was featured on the cover and fly leaves of Hannibal Too, by Hurley and Roberta Hagood (1986)."
Jim Waddell giving his orientation talk to school kids who were bussed over to Mark Twain Cave for a Tour. The mural behind him is an enlargement of a super high resolution Library of Congress file of a steamboat painting (seen above, by August Norieri) that lends itself well to the environment of this room where the tourists of all ages get an introductory talk prior to going on the tour of the Cave. For more Jim Waddell, click here.
Wooding up the ROB'T E. LEE
Looks like a lot of man hours went into this 13 3/4 X 22 inch wood Marquetry Inlay plaque of the steamer ROB'T E. LEE signed by "VERN - 1983." Yay, Vern!
With the exception of images credited to public institutions,
everything on this page is from a private collection.
Please contact Steamboats.com for permission for commercial use.*