Virginius Island, West Virginia

Virginius Island is a small 12 acres island, on the Shenandoah River in Harpers Ferry, West Virginia. The island was created by the Shenandoah Canal, constructed by the Patowmack Company between 1806 and 1807. It is right next to the town of Harpers Ferry. There are no remaining buildings but the ruins of the mills, foundries, factories and homes are marked and can be seen on the lovely walking paths which meader through the ruins and along the beautiful Shenandoah River.

Virginius Island used to be a thriving industrial town in the first half of the nineteenth century. The Shenandoah River was the power source to operate machinery in the cotton mill, four mill, sawmill, iron foundry, tannery, rifle factory, machine shop In 1850 over 180 people resided in twenty different houses. You can still see the tracks of the Winchester and Potomac Railroad which runs right through the island The CSX trains still run every day. The Baltimore and Ohio Railroad joined Harpers Ferry with Baltimore and Washington.

The town suffered greatly during the Civil War (1861-1865) The rifle factory and some of the mills were destroyed. The attack by John Brown on the Harpers Ferry Armory also added to the decline. Many people feared this location and left for safer places. After the war the older water power mills had competition from the new steam-powered industry. In 1936 another terrible tragedy struck. It was the worst recorded flood which overtook the entire Harpers Ferry area. This was the last straw and the remaining islanders left again, never to return.

I have been coming to Harpers Ferry for most of my adult life. My mother in law owned a motel called the Hillside Motel in Knoxsville, MD just a stone throw away from Harper’s Ferry and we would always go over to Harpers Ferry for hiking, picnicking and enjoying the gorgeous landscape. In all those years, I never knew about Virginius Island. Love stumbling on to a surprise place like this.

I plan to do several paintings here. This is the first one. It is a view of the canal and the ruin of an old mill factory.

Using a sketch and photo reference to begin.

I knew this little drawing could be developed into a strong composition. I like the contrast of the rock formations along the canal and the remains of the old mill against the lovely backdrop of sycamore trees.

Third phase. adding more local color.

In the middle of the painting. Sustained paintings have a whole different temperament. The working method is much more thoughtful and deliberate. When painting outside I usually have a real conversation with the elements, i.e. the changing light is always problematic. The color also changes but even when using a drawing and a photo and my memory I can pick up on certain elements that do not change. Mostly the composition. the hard diagonals and triangular form of the stone wall are anchors and I welcome the stability and play this off of the soft distant hues of the trees and beautiful curving and sweeping up from the canal to the plane of land.

At this point the composition is well established. The value is set with the darker areas and high contrast in the foreground. I have taken pains to draw in the trees which weave in and out of the atmospheric background. Trying to see them as units instead of individual trees.

“Canal and Old Mill Ruin ” (11×14). oil on linen panel

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