"The time has come," the Walrus said,
"To talk of many things:
Of shoes--and ships--and sealing-wax--
Of cabbages--and kings--
I'm probably not the first blogger to start out with that quote from Lewis Carroll, but, like the Walrus, I really do hope to talk - or, write - of many things. Mostly, these will be about my projects and research.
I'm an illustrator who specializes in recreating the worlds and peoples of the Past. Though I've written about and/or illustrated many subjects, including Iron Age druids, prehistoric mammals and the army of Czar Peter the Great, my particular interest is in the less-well-known times and places of the American West. Not "The Old West," because to many that conjures up images of cowboys, Plains Indians and Apaches, homesteaders and prospectors, and the cavalry to the rescue. There's nothing wrong with these, and they've been the staple of countless movies, novels, comics, television shows, illustrators and artists and who knows how many kids' fantasies? I like all of those Old West characters and have written about and illustrated them, but I've always loved discovering new things. I'm drawn to the Conquistadors and the Spanish Borderlands of North America; the Russian American empire in Alaska and California; the Hudson's Bay Company on the Pacific Slope. These were places where many cultures met, colliding and mingling with one another. And that interests me.
Mostly, though, I want to know what the Past looked like - really looked like. From the time when I was a kid and first discovered that Vikings didn't wear fur tunics and helmets adorned with horns or wings I've taken a peculiar pleasure in those moments when my preconceptions are shaken up and a different reality is revealed. That reality is usually not very romantic compared to the popular image, and this can sting at first, but then comes the moment when I think, "Yeah, but this is real. This is so much more interesting because it actually existed." And then I cannot look at the popular image again without feeling that it is a hoax upon the public.
I remember when I was eight years old, a fourth grader in California, in love with drawing and history. At the beginning of the school year I opened my History textbook and discovered exciting images of the Spanish explorers who first settled the land where I now lived for the King of Spain. There they were, on horseback, armed with lance and shield and sword, the soldiers in morion helmets and breastplates and their commander in a cavalier's plumed hat and high leather boots. Then I looked at the captions. These pictures were meant to represent the expedition of Col. Juan Bautista de Anza, who guided settlers to the new province . . . in 1776. I remember thinking, "Wait a minute! That's the time of George Washington." I knew how people dressed in the time of George Washington and it wasn’t like this. I wanted to know why the artist showed them this way. And so it seems that I have spent the decades since in answering this question and the many more that grew out of it. Then, about ten years ago, I was asked to illustrate this same expedition of Col. Anza for the National Park Service. I knew I had come full circle.