Free speech is protected by the U.S. Constitution. While peaceful public protest may be the only way to be heard and have grievous injustice finally corrected, it has risks in provoking violence. Today most protesters try to follow the effective examples of Gandhi, King and Mandela in peacefully seeking human rights justice. Some will bear the pain experienced by their heroes. I have created a few relief prints in sympathy with their cause.
In the nation’s capital on June 1st 2020, National Guard and mounted police cleared Lafayette Square of peaceful Black-Lives-Matter protesters with violence, flash grenades and tear gas. This event reminds me of the colonial protest events in 1770 when a child of 11 died in Boston at the hands of a British customs employee. After the child’s funeral, British Redcoats overreacted to an argument at the customs house between a wigmaker’s apprentice and a soldier over an unpaid bill. The apprentice was struck down with the butt of a gun; a mob formed, threw snowballs and stones, and five townspeople died in what is now known as the Boston Massacre.
Structure of the Work
I patterned “Lafayette Square 2020” after Henry Pelham’s 1770 engraving “The Fruits of Arbitrary Power”. Paul Revere made a similar contemporary engraving from Pelham’s example.
In my work, Saint John’s Episcopal Church replaces the Massachusetts Courthouse, teargas replaces black powder smoke, and protesters fall before armed US soldiers instead of British Redcoats.
I created Lafayette Square 2020 as a reduction relief print on handmade paper. That is: I carved, inked, and printed (10 copies) a single linoleum block three times, once for each color. I used archival paper made from a mixture of cotton and abaca pulp.
Short Tour of Lafayette Square
In my print, you are looking at Lafayette Square while standing at the curb of Pennsylvania Avenue with your back to the White House. I took some visual liberties in that the park is larger, about two blocks square, and contains mature trees and corner statues that would obstruct some of the view. The Executive Mansion became known as the White House when it was painted after the British army ransacked and torched it, the Capitol, and other public buildings during the War of 1812. The supporters of the last President ransacked the Capitol again seven months after the events depicted.
Across the street on left side of the picture is the Blair House which was built just after the White House was first painted. Internally Blair House has been joined with its neighbors to become the President’s guest house. Assassins attempted to invade the Blair House and kill President Truman when he as living there while the White House was being renovated.
At the end of that block is Decatur’s house. Commodore Decatur was a hero of the 1812 War. Like Alexander Hamilton, he died in a duel of honor. His house was designed by Benjamin Latrobe who also designed the US Capitol and helped President Jefferson add balconies to the White House.
Continuing right around the square you come next to the 5 Star Hay-Adams Hotel. It is smaller but more elegant than our former President’s hotel, which is housed in the old post office just up the street on Pennsylvania Avenue.
Central to the park across from the White House is Saint John’s Episcopal Church. St. John’s was providing refreshments to the protestors when the police fired gas and projectiles at the crowd to make room for a presidential photo-op in front of the old church.
Andrew Jackson’s statue is in the center of the square. Jackson was the hero of the astoundingly successful Battle of New Orleans at the end of the 1812 War. Important allies in his military campaign were the Choctaw tribes and Caribbean pirates.
In 1859, Daniel Sickles gunned down Francis Scott Key’s son on Madison Place in Lafayette Square in broad daylight. Sickles believed Phillip Key was having an affair with his wife. He got away with it. Sickles went on to become a Civil War hero at Gettysburg.
On the right side of the picture, I took liberties with the profile of the houses on Madison Place. I used instead the profile of the Boston Custom House drawn by Pelham and Revere. I wanted to draw a connection between these two violent events.