Seaport at Sunset

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My first introduction to blogging came when my Creative Writing class was assigned to write about a painting that moved us during a field trip to the Timken Museum. So it only makes sense to write about what opened my eyes to this new endeavour.  I missed the field trip but went the following week on my own to write about my experience. The quaint museum is tucked away in the back of the park between the Botanical Garden and San Diego Zoo. Even my quarter mile stroll to the museum was full of intrigue. The sun finally appeared after several days of rain and the birds were proudly singing their perfectly orchestrated melody to all the visitors, the trill of a man’s song echoed from the reflecting pool nearby. What a beautiful day to inspire someone to appreciate very old art.

With 1,200 acres of stunning Spanish Colonial, Mission and Pueblo Revival architecture and gorgeous, lush landscape from all over the world,  Balboa Park is one of the oldest locations in San Diego and dates back to the mid to late eighteen-hundreds. The park houses one of Southern California’s oldest scientific institutions; the San Diego Natural History Museum and at one time served as an extension of the Balboa Naval Hospital during WW2,  assisting the wounded and housing the worn down and tired nurses. Then in the height of the 60’s, the Timken Museum of Art opened.

The Timken Museum hosted the 1915 Panama -California Exposition, which was to celebrate the commission of the Panama Canal and direct attention to the Port of San Diego as a must see destination, today it is deemed one of the most important buildings in San Diego. The architecture of the museum stands out to the rest due to its swank Mid-Century Modern design. The interior of the building however, was set up to reflect the surrounding building styles. The museum would have never came to fruition however, if it wasn’t for the Timken and Putnam Families.

The Putnam family, more specifically, two sisters, Anne and Amy, came to San Diego along with their archival masterpieces collected during their European voyages. In order to ensure the safety of art they consulted their lawyer friend Walter Ames who in turn sought funding from the Timken family, a well-to-do bunch from Ohio. Today the museum is the only one in the park that may be visited for free, every day, due to the generosity of those sisters.

It was a difficult task to select just one painting to discuss, there are so many there and they all tell their own story, a snippet of history through one man’s eyes. Some were architecturally satisfying and most others spoke of religion. But the one I chose to discuss spoke to me, in what I thought, demonstrated some of the controversy in today’s society. The name; Seaport at Sunset by Claude-Joseph Vernet, painted in 1749, and is oil on a 44- 7/8″x 64-5/8″.

Prior to listening to the images description, I thought the painting portrayed a war with people unaffected by what was right in front of them. I won’t go into to detail about war but what I did love was the fact that different ethnicities and classes mingled on the pier and a woman sat amongst her friends exposing her breast and feeding her child the latter being the most intriguing aspect of this very detailed piece of work.

I personally haven’t been discriminated against while publicly breastfeeding my child, society has taught me to always cover up, but I do remember a time where covering my child’s head while she ate caused a few heads to turn. I was on a flight to Spain and I had been feeding my daughter when out of the corner of my eye I saw a lady and her husband pointing and staring at me. It was incredibly uncomfortable and I honestly thought I was about to be scolded for feeding my child in public. Then I realized they were Spanish and that Europeans openly breastfeed they had no idea what I was doing placing a “sheet” over my kid, there is no taboo about it there. But what a relief to know that I could painlessly feed my kid without scrutiny and in the open.

Back to the painting though, I really enjoyed seeing this act as being very normal, especially for this time period where women really weren’t allowed to show much skin. Not only was she feeding her baby uncovered but she was still carrying on with her friends in a conversation. I hope more people will come to see this as a very natural way to feed a child. I look forward to this being continually normalized in society so women are not ashamed of the gift of being able to nourish their babies.

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