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Guest Post: John Gosling’s “Faces of Alexandria”

Printed Art: The Potomac by John Gosling

This is a guest post by John Gosling, whose exhibit “Printed Art: The Potomac” is open through Monday, June 1.

The “Faces of Alexandria” collection is a series of nine portraits representing the history of Alexandria from its colonial beginnings up to the present day. I started the series in 2009 and it is based on the portraits of local people, models, self-portraits, and family members wearing period costumes.

The inspiration for the series comes from my fascination with Old Town Alexandria and derives from my recognition, as an architect/urban planner, that Old Town is one of the premier examples of a sustainable, mixed-use community in America. For me it is a very special place that demonstrates the results of a pioneering community’s endeavor from the formative period in our nations’ history (building a community from scratch), that has functioned for over 250 years.

I deliberately selected the characters to illustrate a range of ordinary citizens rather than the historic players like George Washington or Robert E. Lee that are typically associated with Alexandria. My original idea was to do twelve faces and assemble a calendar from them. I have sketched out the remaining three and hope to complete the series by the end of this year.

The faces represent aspects of Alexandria’s amazingly diverse history: a colonial era entry point for trade established at the head of navigation on the Potomac River, a slave trading center, the largest logistical centers of the Union Army during the Civil War, large scale manufacturing during the 19th and early 20th centuries, and shipbuilding and torpedo manufacturing during wartime. At one time it had the largest railroad yard in the south at Potomac Yard.

I have tried to tell this rich history through my “Faces of Alexandria” series, for example:

Scottish Piper - John GoslingThe Scottish Walker, representing the annual parade that celebrates the founding of the city by Scottish merchants in 1749;
Tobacco Farmer - John GoslingThe Tobacco Farmer representing the time when Alexandria was a tobacco trading post authorized by the British Crown in the 18th century;
The Good Wife - John GoslingThe “Good Wife,” a designation common by the mid-seventeenth century in Virginia as lawmakers began to use ideas about gender and race to codify two distinct roles for Virginia women: the so-called “goodwife”, typically free and white, who performed domestic work in her home and raised her children, and the agricultural laborer, typically enslaved and black;
The Field Hands - John GoslingThe Field Hands, representing the slavery that existed in all the British American colonies. Africans were brought to America to work, mainly in agriculture. In Virginia, most slaves worked in tobacco fields. When the tobacco farms started to fail in the mid 19th century, the slaves were exported to the cotton plantations in Louisiana and the deep south;
The Town Crier - John GoslingThe Town Crier, with ceremonial duties that included reading proclamations, announcing upcoming events, and acting as master of ceremonies at special events. One of the earliest Alexandria town criers on record is Peter Logan, an African American man who served as the town crier and on holidays as the town piper in the early 19th century;
The Night Watchman - John GoslingThe Night Watchman, and constables were employed by the city since 1795 up until the Alexandria Police Department was founded in 1870;
The Railway Engineer - John GoslingThe Railway Engineer: Potomac Yard in its heyday was one of the busiest rail yards in the Eastern United States, processing thousands of cars daily. The site reached capacity in 1937. The booming “Pot Yard” attracted thousands of workers, who largely settled in the areas of Del Ray and St. Elmo;
The Irish Dancer - John GoslingAnd so on up to the Irish Dancer, a later addition to the King Street parades celebrating St. Patrick’s Day and the Irish contribution to Alexandria’s history.

All of this history has produced Alexandria as it appears today. Alexandrians have faced all of these challenges – occupying armies, commercial failures, and social upheaval – and overcome them. It now is a flourishing city that values its historic waterfront, its old and historic buildings, stories of its eventful past, and its social, artistic, and economic vitality.

— John Gosling

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