by Paul D'AmbrosioCurator of the Fenimore Art Museum in Cooperstown
A disaster in the making, frozen in time. A logging raft with seven men aboard rounds a sharp turn in the Susquehanna River in central Pennsylvania sometime around the 1840s. As the men tug desperately at the oars, the raft smashes into a large rock in the center of the river and breaks apart. The men jump for their lives and cling to the raft to avoid being swept downriver by the swift current.
Linton Park was born in 1826, the last of nine children of Scotch-Irish immigrants who settled Indiana County, Pennsylvania. Family tradition holds that from his earliest days, Park was a confirmed vegetarian, once even scolding the family dog for gnawing a bone. He worked as a logger, carpenter and painter in a number of nearby towns, and ended up in Washington, DC in 1863, working on the crew that painted the new dome of the Capitol Building. A photo of him at this time appears above.
Later in life Park became an inventor, and received patents for a Venetian-type window blind, a “Cottage Window Shade,” and, more in keeping with his dietary preferences, a device for peeling vegetables that he called the “Vegetarian.” He also painted, not just scenes but also wagons, furniture, and signs. His most famous painting is a rollicking, Breugelesque scene of a flax scotching bee, in the National Gallery of Art (above). The logging pictures, which include the Fenimore Art Museum scene of the rafting accident, stemmed from his early days when he crewed on log rafts and even helped build them.In our scene, among the men tugging at rudders or jumping to avoid certain death, there is one figure at the far right in shirtsleeves who clings to the side of the raft for dear life. Family tradition holds that this is Park himself. One hardly wonders why this creative vegetarian gave up rafting logs in favor of painting them.