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Awful Conflagration of the Steam Ship Lexington (after Nathaniel Currier), 1840/2011

© Stacy Lynn Waddell. Photo by Peter Paul Geoffrion.

Awful Conflagration of the Steam Ship Lexington (after Nathaniel Currier), 1840/2011

Artist: Stacy Lynn Waddell (born in Washington, District of Columbia, 1966)
Culture: American
Date: 2011
Medium: Burned and branded paper with watercolor, gold leaf and acrylic
Dimensions:
Image/sheet: 22 x 29 3/4 inches (55.9 x 75.6 cm)
Frame: 25 7/16 x 33 5/16 x 1 1/4 inches (64.6 x 84.6 x 3.2 cm)
Classification: Painting
Credit Line: Museum purchase
Label Text:Durham-based artist Stacy Lynn Waddell explores landscape, history, and narrative—both fictitious and historical—in order to address issues of cultural and personal identity. Awful Conflagration of the Steam Ship Lexington (after Nathaniel Currier), 1840/2011 is based on an 1840 lithograph by Nathaniel Currier illustrating the burning of the passenger steamer Lexington in Long Island Sound. After its smokestack caught fire, the steamer’s cargo of 150 bales of cotton quickly ignited, and 139 of the 143 passengers and crew members died in the fire. Waddell combines this historical event with her artistic process, alluding to the ship’s fire through her use of burned and branded paper. Waddell uses a decorative “B” to create the cloud of smoke in this work. The letter “B” evokes many associations, including branding, beauty and blackness.

The use of branding irons, while creating a unique visual quality, also calls to mind their loaded historical significance in terms of branding humans as property during slavery. This technique, in combination with Waddell’s subject matter of a ship carrying cotton, highlights the artist’s interest in the history of African Americans and the southeastern U.S.

Object number: 2012.12.1