Whitbeck  Notes 
Spring  2022
16" x 20"   oil on panel
         "This letter is to be delivered in New Netherland at Fort Orange to Johan Thomassen van Witbeck.

   Johan Thomassen:

         If it is possible we would like to hear from you again. We have revieved your former letter in good time and thank you kindly for it, as you have written us how it goes with you. Now I am telling you again what you already know, to wit- that in 1651 I, Thomas Jansen, wanted to send my son Jens Thomassen to you with a letter, that is in the spring of 1651; but when he came to Holland the ships for New Netherland had sailed and he gave the letter for you to somebody to forward. I should be glad to know that you recieved it. You will have learned that a great war of the Swedish people has been going on here during the last years, through which we have suffered great damages and losses of horses, cattle and goods. After the Swedish war we had so many heavy hail storms during two years, just when the grain was in full blossom that we could harvest only a few sheaves, the hail having beaten it down so. In consequence everything has been very dear during the last six years, the stup (a measure of two quartsof rye costing 13 to 24 marks, so that most families in our village have become very poor, but we may thank God for having kept us in good health."
     And so began a letter written February 27th, 1653 from Thomas Jansen to his son, the first Whitbeck in the new world, Jan Thomassen. Thomas was writing from what is now the Schleswig- Holstein area of northern Germany, but at the time was the territory of Denmark. The ever moving borders during times of conflict. The short letter continues on with the hopes of Thomas' other sons and daughter and their families to also make their way to New Netherland and prosper as well as a plea for Jan to write a letter in return, some word from him as to how things are going and what the country is like.
     This treasure of a letter was the only correspondence between Jan and his family back home to survive, or that is known of anyway, and my wife Gale and I were fortunate enough to have dug it up while doing geneology research at the Albany Institute of History and Art Library some years ago. It brought to life this long ago past of my forefathers and their roots back in Europe. It also put more of a focus on the vague images of the era that I have had in my head eversince we started looking into my familie history. Plus, it was in discovering the life of Jan Thomassen that awoke the desire and passion for me to discover more about his world and which eventually lead to my great love for the Dutch painters of the 17th century. 
Golden Blooms
20" x 16"   oil on panel
     The best way to get a visual of times gone past is to look to the art of the period and during the 17th century there was, for sure, no lack in paintings of life in the little Dutch Republic. Peasant landscapes, city scenes, raucus taverns, elegant courtship, ships and ports, still life with all of the goods displayed; from wood to silver and gold. It was all there! This was my way to see what  life was like for Jan and his companions in the old world as well as the new.
     Having have been drawing and sketching for as long as I can remember and painting off and on since my teenage years, the ground was ready and fertile for this new influence and I took it up with gusto. It started with the famous Johannes Vermeer and his colleague Pieter de Hooch. They opened the doors and let me in. But then it quickly became a spider web of lines leading me this way and that to other art genres and sub genres and to the lesser known painters of the time (who were actually just as good and innovative as the big names!). This was some thirty years ago and that same desire and attraction to the art world of the 17th century has never waned. Every time I start a new painting I get that same exhilarating feeling and excitement as I did back three decades ago. Thank you Meneer Johan Thomassen van Witbeck!
18" x 24"   oil on panel
     As for our instigator, the story as is known thus far is that at some point Jan's father, Thomas or Grandfather had moved north from Friesland to Denmark after the Danish King had offered free land to Dutch farmers if they would settle it and build towns, thus occupying this otherwise empty land. And it was later in the 1640s that our Jan had decided to leave this area of Denmark and start a new life across the Atlantic in the woods and fields along the Fresh River (Hudson River). First arriving in New Amsterdam (New York) he soon made his way up river to Fort Orange (Albany) and having settled there, partnered up with a man named Volkert Dou and began a farm (As a side note, this Volkert Dou was the brother of the famous pupil of Rembrandt, Gerrit Dou, who painted the most amazingly detailed small genre scenes. Definitely worth looking up!). As well as farming, Jan and Volkert also bought and sold land and were magistrates at the court of Fort Orange and the settlement of Beverwijk. And his roots went deep, because the offspring of Jan Thomassen for many generations pretty much stayed in upper New York and to this day if you come across a Whitbeck, most likely they are from the Albany area. My branch of the Whitbecks ventured eastwards from the Hudson River Valley with my great, great grandfather Cornelis and his wife Mary.
     As far as is known Jan never returned to the town of Witbeck and his family line took root into the soil of the upper Hudson and made the New World his permanent home. His Father ends the letter with these words:

     "I hope that with Gods help there will be nothing to hinder and if you do not write again I shall pray and trust that God will keep my dear son Johan Thomassen in His Fatherly protection. I commend you and your family to His care, and hope that He will keep you- as well as us here- in good health, so that you might surprise us by a happy return.

Witbeck, 27 February, 1653
Thomas Jansen  (written by my own hand)"

Nymphs and Trytons
18" x 24"   oil on panel
     Just returned from my Florida tour I am already back in the studio and getting ready for the Chicago shows in June. Florida was succesfull, meaning that I have to now get down to it and finish the few paintings that had been started before heading south. I have some great new ones that I cant wait to post onto my website.
     This show season will be a short one, with five shows all together. So if interested in seeing the new work in person be sure to try and make one or the other of the shows. Click here to visit the "Art Shows" page of my website. Longs Park in Lancaster, Pa. will be the fifth and final show this year. Also, for a preview, visit my website www.jameswhitbeck.com to view all of the available paintings.

All my best,
James Whitbeck
(413) 695-3937