Tuesday, June 21, 2011
“Washington’s Watch Chain” – the nickname the troops used at the time – turned out to be one of the most interesting, difficult, and most gratifying paintings I’ve ever done in sixty years of painting professionally. - Mort Künstler
The lifting devices, like the capstan, lever, block and tackle, are all easily portable and go back to ancient Roman times. The chain was made of formidable 2½-inch thick iron, each link was twenty six to thirty eight inches in length, weighing approximately one hundred pounds each, with nine or ten links to a section, plus a huge joining clevis and a swivel. It certainly was effective. The British never attempted to break it.
On December 15th, after a short drive from my Oyster Bay home, I was at the West Point Museum visiting with David M. Reel, Director, and Gary Hood, Curator of Art. I saw a section of the huge chain, and actually stood on the very spot depicted in this painting at the very same time of the year and the same time of day! The stars were truly aligned for me because it had snowed earlier in the week, just the way it had some 230 years earlier. - Mort Künstler
The story of the chain is a fascinating one. During the Revolution, the British ruled the seas. The English with their Hessian allies, occupied Long Island and New York City. The Continentals held New England, New Jersey, and Pennsylvania. If the British could sail up the Hudson from New York City and connect with their forces in Canada, they would essentially be able to cut the United States in half. Washington endorsed a scheme that would string a giant chain across the river, resting on pine floats. The entire system of chain and floats had to be removed before the river froze over and then put back in the spring. If frozen into the Hudson, the chain would have been destroyed by the ice. That is the moment I chose to depict. - Mort Künstler
In October 2010, I accepted a commission from the Adjutant General’s Corps Regimental Association to do a painting for placement in the Hall of Honor at the Adjutant General School at Fort Jackson, S.C. The painting would commemorate over 200 years of service by the Adjutant General’s Corps to the United Sates of America. In conversations with Colonel Gary L. Gresh, the 20th Commandant, Adjutant General’s Corps, Ret., we came up with the idea of George Washington at West Point, observing the removal of the Great Chain from the Hudson River. I knew very little about it, but I did find out that it had never before been painted! That was instantly exciting to me. - Mort Künstler