Jeri Rogers, Editor Artemis Journal
In looking at how history intersects the personal, I am sharing a poem by U.S. Poet Laureate Natasha Trethewey, who wrote Enlightenment after going to Monticello, Virginia, with her poet father, Eric Trethewey, to learn more about our complicated and revered President Thomas Jefferson. The poem will appear in the upcoming Artemis Journal 2024, to be released September 6th, at the Roanoke Taubman Museum of Art.
In the portrait of Jefferson that hangs
at Monticello, he is rendered two-toned:
his forehead white with illumination —
To read the full poem go to;
Natasha Trethewey, “Enlightenment” from Thrall. Copyright © 2012 by Natasha Trethewey. Reprinted by permission of Houghton Mifflin Harcourt.
Many portraits were made of Thomas Jefferson. One of the most demanding and persistent artists was Gilbert Stuart, to whom Jefferson sat for three portraits.
In May of 1800, Stuart began his first portrait, and a fee of $100.00 had been paid before the painting received its finishing touches, a mistake that others had made before him. More than twenty years passed before Jefferson received an oil portrait by Stuart, and the result of the 1800 sitting had disappeared without a trace.
In the meantime, Jefferson assumed the presidency. He took up residence in the Washington President’s House where Stuart lived, and in the spring of 1805, Stuart informed Jefferson that he was “not satisfied” with the original 1800 portrait and “begged” the president to sit for him again. Stuart received another $100.00 from a grateful and generous Jefferson after producing the gouache and crayon “medallion” profile, and the second portrait was titled the “Edgehill.”
As the years passed, Stuart retained the portrait. He proceeded to forget the reason for its existence, assuming ownership of the painting until Jefferson enlisted intermediaries from Monticello to obtain ownership in 1821. This magnificent painting hangs in the parlor of Monticello. Virginia.
Natasha Trethewey served two terms as the 19th Poet Laureate of the United States (2012-2014). She is the author of five collections of poetry, including Native Guard (2006)—for which she was awarded the 2007 Pulitzer Prize—and, most recently, Monument: Poems New and Selected (2018); a book of non-fiction, Beyond Katrina: A Meditation on the Mississippi Gulf Coast (2010); and a memoir, Memorial Drive (2020) an instant New York Times Bestseller. She is the recipient of fellowships from the Academy of American Poets, the National Endowment for the Arts, the Guggenheim Foundation, the Rockefeller Foundation, the Beinecke Library at Yale, and the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study at Harvard. She is a fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, the American Academy of Arts and Letters, and the American Philosophical Society. In 2017 she received the Heinz Award for Arts and Humanities. A Chancellor of the Academy of American Poets since 2019, Trethewey was awarded the 2020 Rebekah Johnson Bobbitt Prize in Poetry for Lifetime Achievement from the Library of Congress.