One of the thrilling aspects of telling the story of George Caleb Bingham’s life and legacy are coming across those events in his life that are easily identifiable as defining moments.
For the storyteller, these defining moments make for great pillars around which to construct the overall story.
Especially if that moment occurs in childhood.
A defining moment occurring at a young age has a quiet power, like a single drop in water sending ripples outward through the rest of a life.
When you’re examining the life of someone as accomplished and influential as Bingham, you become amazed by the impression a single experience can have on one person’s life and the world the rest of us live in.
For a young George Caleb Bingham, the first and perhaps most clearly defining moment in his life was a meeting with an artist. The meeting, though, was not by chance.
In the 1820s, Bingham’s father, Henry, brought George, then age 9, and his brother Newt, age 5, up to the the second floor above a tavern in the small Missouri town of Franklin where they lived.
The two boys paused before a closed door. Finally the boys’ father opened the door for them, and the boys peered through the doorway, getting a long look into a makeshift artist studio.
In the studio, the itinerant portrait painter Chester Harding was at work on a portrait of American hero Daniel Boone. Harding was working from a sketch he’d made of Boone just a few days before in Warren County, Missouri.
So legendary was Boone and so renown was the artist Harding that Henry Bingham felt compelled to bring his sons to witness the artist at work on his art, the celebrity in their midst.
In this moment, one child chose to hang back, while the other was drawn through the doorway and forever into the world of the artist.
Not only would the studio and the art impress their sights, sounds and smells upon the young George Caleb Bingham, so too would the artist himself. That visit, that moment, led to a mentorship and friendship lasting for years and informing American fine art to this day.
We know this visit to Harding’s improvised lair was a defining moment that rippled throughout Bingham”s life because, by all accounts, this was the first childhood exposure to fine art for the man who would spend his life painting portraits and landscapes.
A moment. An impression. A stroke left on a canvass that’s as indelible as a mark left on a young boy.
It’s exploring moments like these in Bingham’s life that makes the film rewarding for the filmmakers and viewers alike.
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