Oyler: Graphic historian recognized at Bridgeville program
We deviated from our normal format for the August “Bridgeville Remembered” program with a presentation honoring the opening of an exhibit of paintings by Andrew Knez Jr. at the Bridgeville Public Library.
We have used many of his pictures to illustrate local historical events in the days before photography. It seemed appropriate for us to acknowledge the valuable role that graphic historians like Andrew play in our perception of frontier life in this area during the colonial period.
Our talk began with a brief review of the history of this area, illustrated by carefully selected examples of Andrew's work. “On the Move” depicts a herd of bison in a meadow ringed by a forest. We used it to typify the time before the arrival of the first humans.
The first humans came 15,000 years ago. Nearby Meadowcroft Rock Shelter has been verified as the oldest site with evidence of their presence. A painting showing two 18th century Indians and a family of black bears at the shelter is filled with implications. It is easy to believe that these Indians know their ancestors were here in ancient times.
The arrival of the Europeans is typified by “Storm Clouds Gathering,” which depicts George Washington's meeting with the Seneca Half King at Logstown (Ambridge) on his journey to Fort LeBoeuf to persuade the French to call off their invasion of the Ohio Country, an event which ultimately culminated in the French and Indian War.
“The Survivor” shows a wounded Indian warrior being treated by his wife following Pontiac's unsuccessful rebellion. A common theme in Andrew's work is the basic humanity of the Native Americans — in many respects they differed very little from the Europeans who displaced them. Pontiac's siege of Fort Pitt was lifted by the arrival of Colonel Bouquet's army, which included many young easterners who were impressed with their first look at the Ohio Country. One of them was wagon-master Christian Lesnett.
“Moving West” records the migration of settlers like Lesnett and Richard Boyce into the Chartiers Valley in 1769. “The Homestead” includes a log cabin that Andrew based on the one Boyce built on his claim, “Content.” Andrew is a direct descendant of Richard Boyce; the cabin still was in existence when he was young.
By the time the Lesnetts and Boyces were comfortably settled in the Chartiers Valley, events in Massachusetts precipitated the Revolutionary War. The frontiersmen could no longer rely on the British Army for protection against the Indians; they were now enemies as well. To provide the necessary protection they formed the Eighth Pennsylvania Regiment of the Continental Line in the summer of 1776. That winter General Washington's campaign in the East took priority and the Regiment was ordered to join him. They played a significant role in a number of battles before going into their winter quarters at Valley Forge.
Andrew's painting “The Sentry” is a perfect symbol for the winter of 1777-1778 at Valley Forge. It shows a single soldier trying to warm himself at a fire while on sentry duty. He is cold, tired, and hungry, and wondering how he managed to get into this situation. But beneath all this he knows the cause is just and he is committed to see it through. Mike Mongelli, a re-enactor with the present day “Eighth” was the model for the painting; he came to the presentation in full Revolutionary War uniform.
The War of 1812 was illustrated by “A Kentucky Rifleman,” which is based on the legend of Mike Severs. When Andrew Jackson sent word to the frontiersmen in Kentucky to help defend New Orleans, Severs, on foot, was the first one to arrive. His exploits at the battle were heroic, including killing British General Pakenham at a range of 200 yards.
Andrew's goal as an artist is to depict average people who survived and flourished in the difficult “frontier years” as accurately as possible. Many of them were true heroes whose exceptional deeds are unknown to the general public. He hopes his work will be viewed as a true window into their place and time.
The 14 paintings in this exhibit are examples of Andrew's most recent work. The exhibit will be available to the public during regular library hours through Sept. 12.
The next presentation in the “Bridgeville Remembered” series will cover the years from 1910 to 1920. It is scheduled for Tuesday at 7 p.m. in the Community Room at the library. Please note the deviation from the usual (Thursday) day.
John Oyler is a columnist for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-343-1652 or firstname.lastname@example.org.