Lefferts Homestead Overmantle

 

Lefferts Homestead 72 Website


The Lefferts Homestead Overmantle 60” x 24”, gouache on ragboard, Property of the Lefferts Homestead Children’s Museum in Brooklyn, NY

 

This painting was commissioned by the Lefferts Homestead Children’s Museum in 1990 for an exhibit called “Black Roots on a Brooklyn Farm”. The Lefferts Homestead is now a historical home and children’s museum, but in 1776 it played a central role during the Battle of Brooklyn. This painting is based on information in the book, “A Social History of Flatbush” by Gertrude Lefferts Vanderbilt, (1920). The Battle of Brooklyn was a turning point during the early part of the Revolutionary War. George Washington’s troops were out numbered, but were able to retreat to the hills of New Jersey. Many historians believe that the American Revolution might have been lost right there in Brooklyn, if George Washington’s army had been unable to escape.

When I was originally commissioned to create this painting as part of a show depicting the history of slavery in New York, Gertrude’s careful retelling of specific events helped me to produce a historically accurate painting portraying life on a Brooklyn farm during Revolutionary times. I also worked closely with the curators and historians who paid close attention to detail, for example, I had to remove from a sketch covered wagons and wishing wells, because covered wagons were only used in the West and traditional wishing wells had not yet been invented.

Like the Lefferts family, my roots are in Brooklyn. The legacy of the Lefferts family continues to live on in Brooklyn today, everywhere one turns are reminders of this important family, including the main street, Lefferts Boulevard that cuts north and south through the heart of Brooklyn and Lefferts Gardens, a lovely neighborhood with stately old brownstones and tree lined streets.

This painting has a unique history too and has gone through many permutations. The subject of the Lefferts Homestead and the story of a girl growing up in the middle of a war has intrigued me since I drew the first sketch in 1990. Since then, I have created two versions of the painting, a wall mural for kids at the museum and I am currently working on a picture book about Femmetie Hegeman Lefferts and her family’s adventures during that pivotal day in August 1776.

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