House Approval of Legislation to Establish the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, New York | US House of Representatives: History, Art & ArchivesOn this date, the House passed H.R. 7, “An Act fixing the Military peace establishment of the United States,” creating a military academy for U.S. soldiers in West Point, New York. In the 5th Congress (1797–1799), Robert Harper of South Carolina proposed “a military school, and a corps constantly existing, in which officers may always be found fit to command troops.” Harper reasoned that "if an army or revenue were wanted, they could at any time be raised; but good officers and military science could not be created without much previous application, by practice, and a course of study.” Ultimately, the South Carolinian believed that such a school would help to ensure “the safety of [the] country when it is known that such a class of men exists to any considerable degree.” President Thomas Jefferson, who had long promoted the idea of creating a national university to benefit society as a whole, found the military academy proposal appealing. Jefferson encouraged his Secretary of War, Henry Dearborn, to form such a school in 1801. Introduced by Joseph Varnum of Massachusetts, a veteran of the American Revolution who assisted in suppressing Shays’ Rebellion in 1786, the West Point bill passed on a 77 to 12 vote. The Senate added amendments to the bill and passed it on March 5, 1802. The House concurred with the amendments 10 days later, and sent it to President Jefferson, who signed the bill into law on March 16, 1802.
The House Unveiled a Portrait of Georgia Representative Carl Vinson | US House of Representatives: History, Art & ArchivesOn this date, the House unveiled a portrait of Georgia Representative Carl Vinson, celebrating his service as chairman of the House Committee on Naval Affairs. After a quarter century in the House, Vinson was known as both “Admiral” for his role in expanding the Navy, and as “Swamp Fox” for his cunning in guiding military legislation through the House. Vinson served on the committee from 1917 until his retirement from the House in 1965. As he said upon his departure from the House, “my service started with the Springfield rifle and is ending with the Polaris submarine and the intercontinental ballistic missile.” Between those two milestones, Vinson chaired the Naval Affairs Committee and its successor, the Armed Services Committee, for decades. He ruled the large committee with an iron fist, and when President Truman considered appointing him Secretary of Defense, Vinson made it clear that his chairmanship was the more powerful post. Despite the wartime unveiling, powerful officials traveled to the Capitol to pay tribute to Vinson’s work and influence. Speaker of the House Sam Rayburn of Texas and President Roosevelt sent special messages to the committee, and some of the Navy’s highest-ranking officials attended. The portrait was the work of Lawrence A. Powers, an ensign in the Naval Reserve. It reflects Vinson’s status as someone who had seen and caused many of the changes in the Navy during the 20th century. Visible in the background is a painting of the U.S.S. Georgia, a “three-stack, coal-burning battleship” that plied the Atlantic waters during World War I, when Vinson first came to Congress. On the desk, a model of the most up-to-date naval vessel, an aircraft carrier, sits atop a pile of papers. Following his retirement, the Navy named an aircraft carrier in his honor. The U.S.S. Carl Vinson launched in 1980, a year before he died.
Bay State Day in the House of Representatives | US House of Representatives: History, Art & ArchivesOn this date, the state of Massachusetts presented, with much fanfare, portraits of three former Speakers of the House, transforming the House Chamber into a veritable picture gallery. The three large paintings stood against the Speaker’s rostrum, commemorating Massachusetts Representatives Theodore Sedgwick, Joseph Varnum, and Nathaniel Banks, and were featured alongside the portrait of Speaker Robert Winthrop, which had first been presented in 1882, and was brought out again having been the inspiration for Massachusetts to commission the other three. “Bay State Day” was marked a great success, according to the Boston Daily Advertiser, with speeches that “made the House cheer to the echo—it was a scene to which full ranks of members gave their closest attention, and upon which crowded galleries looked down in rapt interest and silence.” Massachusetts was not the first state to donate Speaker portraits to the House, but it took the prize for sheer number. For some time there had been a slow effort to replace decaying and amateurish earlier images that were, in the words of Architect of the Capitol Edward Clark, “quite beneath criticism.” The first official Speaker portrait was that of Henry Clay, donated in 1852. In the decades that followed, the House slowly sought to locate appropriately stately images of all the Speakers. In Massachusetts’ case, the state legislature engaged Boston artist Edgar Parker to paint a copy of the Gilbert Stuart portrait of Theodore Sedgwick. Joseph Varnum’s portrait was purchased from the sitter’s descendants. Charles Elliott had painted it in the 1850s, and the family had always intended it for the Capitol. R.W. Vonnoh was commissioned to create the image of Nathaniel Banks. Banks, still living, sat for his portrait, the first Speaker to do so. The artist shaved 30 years off Banks’s looks, to reflect his appearance when he was Speaker.
Peter Hujar: Speed of LifePeter Hujar was a leading figure of the downtown New York scene of the 1970s and ’80s. He is most well-known for his portraits of New York City’s artists, musicians, writers, and performers, which feature characters such as Susan Sontag, William S. Burroughs, David Wojnarowicz, and Andy Warhol, and was admired for his completely uncompromising attitude toward work and life. Hujar was a consummate technician, and his portraits of people, animals, and landscapes, as well as his documentation of the HIV/AIDS epidemic, with its exquisite black-and-white tonalities, were extremely influential. Underappreciated during his lifetime, Hujar is now a revered icon of the lost downtown art scene, and his photographs are held in permanent collections around the world. Over 160 photographs are gathered in Peter Hujar: Survey. Published alongside a major touring exhibition, this collection presents Hujar’s famous portraiture as well as his lesser-known projects. Accompanied by texts by Philip Gefter, Steve Turtell, and Joel Smith, this survey provides a thorough history of Hujar’s life and artistic practice. Peter Hujar died of AIDS in 1987, leaving behind a complex and profound body of photographs. A leading figure in the cultural scene in downtown New York in the 1970s and ’80s, Hujar was admired for his portraits of people, animals, and landscapes. Since his death his work has been the subject of major retrospectives at the Stedelijk Museum in Amsterdam and the Fotomuseum Winterthur in Switzerland, and he is included in permanent collections at the Museum of Modern Art, New York; Whitney Museum of American Art, New York; the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston; and the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, among others. Steve Turtell (text) is a poet and the author of Heroes and Householders (2009) and Letter to Frank O’Hara (2011), which won the 2010 ReBound Chapbook Prize given by Seven Kitchens Press. He is currently working on Peter Hujar: Invisible Master. Joel Smith (text) is the Richard L. Menschel Curator of Photography at the Morgan Library & Museum in New York. Philip Gefter (text) is the author of Wagstaff: Before and After Mapplethorpe (2014), a biography of Sam Wagstaff, and Photography After Frank (Aperture, 2009), a book of essays about photography. He produced the 2011 documentary Bill Cunningham New York. Gefter was on staff at the New York Times for fifteen years, where he wrote regularly about photography. He is currently at work on a biography of Richard Avedon. Martha Scott Burton (text) is Curatorial Assistant at the Morgan Library & Museum, New York and the founder and editor of Turtledove Press.