Bridgeville History Center hits jackpot with Schwartz paintings
By John Oyler
Published: Wednesday, Nov. 20, 2013, 9:00 p.m.
Although I am grateful for all the feedback I get from these columns, sometimes there are added benefits. In response to our column regarding the exhibit of Andrew Knez' historical paintings, I received a call from a man named Ken Schwartz with an offer to provide a collection of homemade historical figures for a similar display. Last week, Mr. Schwartz delivered 13 works of art to the Bridgeville History Center, where they have been put on display.
For a number of years he has combined his intense interest in American history with the ability to produce small, amazingly lifelike statues of figures out of the past. Most of them are eight or 10 inches high, mounted on wooden bases. The bodies are plaster of paris covered by sculptured papier-mache.
Schwartz has been creating historical miniatures for many years. His commitment to history and recording it correctly includes a tour of duty as president of the Fort Pitt Museum. He reports that one of his challenges is to correct the perception the lay person has of the Native Americans based on the way they are presented in movies and on television.
Like all well-meaning history buffs, Schwartz does considerable research before beginning each project, determined to produce something that is authentic. One example is the figure entitled “Sir John Caldwell.” It is based on a real person, an English nobleman who fought against the Americans during the Revolutionary War. Nephew of the commandant at Fort Quebec, Caldwell served as an agent trying to persuade Indians to support the English cause. After the war he returned to England with a large collection of Indian clothing and artifacts. He commissioned a painting of himself adorned with this clothing and these items. A comparison of the now well known painting and Schwartz's miniature is a testament to the craftsman's dedication to authenticity.
A Native American figure entitled “Southeastern Ojibwa” is shown holding a wampum belt with the image of a tomahawk on it. In one of Caldwell's meetings with the Ojibwa, a belt of this description was displayed as evidence that the Americans were trying to arouse the Iroquois to “go on the war path” against the Ojibwa. The Schwartz display also includes an excellent figurine entitled “Iroquois.” The most recognizable of the figures in the exhibit is a trio on a common base – Meriwether Lewis, William Clark and Sacagawea. Schwartz has managed to capture the unique personality of each of the three while still recognizing the spirit of cooperation between them. Four other figures are remotely related to this trio, representing three tribes that Lewis and Clark encountered – the Lakota Sioux, the Hidatsa and the Mandan.
Sacagawea, a Shoshone, had been captured by Hidatsa braves as a young girl. When the expedition wintered in a Mandan village in 1804-05, they found her there, wife of a French fur trader, Toussaint Charbonneau, both of whom had joined the expedition as translators.
My favorite in the exhibit is a cavalryman mounted on horseback. He is a sergeant in the famed “Seventh Cav,” but Schwartz reports that this specific soldier was not with Custer at the Battle of Little Bighorn. Equally impressive is a marvelous figure of an Indian brave on horseback; I was sure the two of them had met at Bighorn.
Another personal favorite is a German mercenary from the Revolutionary War era, entitled “Anhalt Zerbst.” This was the name of a principality whose ruler supplied troops to the English, to be sent to the New World to quell the colonials' rebellion. This handsome gentleman is shown in a jaunty pose, leaning on his musket with his legs crossed. His unit was stationed at Fort Quebec, under the command of Sir John Caldwell's uncle.
Three other Native Americans complete the exhibit – a Yankton Sioux named “Big Soldier;” an unidentified dancing brave wearing a “Ghost Shirt,” supposedly impregnable against arrow or bullet; and a member of the Creek Nation in 1826.
An update on the sports exhibit – folks are continuing to contribute things to it. Lou Cimarolli brought in a fine scrapbook with photos and clippings about his career. Anthony Capozzoli's widow Charlotte loaned us a scrapbook with lots of items related to the '48 and '49 BHS championship football teams. Tim McConnell gave my brother enough information on his son, T.J., for Joe to put together an impressive poster on his career.
We are extremely grateful to Ken Schwartz for offering the historical society the opportunity to display his works of art, and to the society for the exhibit it has put together.
John Oyler is a columnist for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-343- 1652 or email@example.com.
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