Sunday, November 3, 2013

James Eights

James Eights's watercolors are among the few visual records of early 19th-century Albany.  Painted in the 1840s, the pictures illustrate the city as it appeared in 1805 (and, in some cases, earlier).  Eights worked not only from his own memory, but from maps, documents, and personal recollections of locals.

Eights was born in Albany in 1798 to Dr. Jonathan Eights and his wife, Alidea Wynkoop.  His maternal grandfather, Jacobus Wynkoop, was a skipper, boatbuilder, and veteran of the Revolutionary War.   Jacobus reportedly built the sloop Experiment which was famous for its 1786 voyage to China.

As a young man, James Eights was appointed as a draftsman working on the geological surveys made for the construction of the Erie Canal.  By 1829, he was at sea as a surgeon and naturalist on a voyage to Antarctica.  Despite publishing his accounts of the voyage and the later naming of the Eights Coast in his honor, he was not a member of a follow-up expedition to the Southern Hemisphere, apparently as a result of the same alcoholism which would leave him broke later in life.

He returned to Albany in 1830 to live with his parents and, in the 1840s, began work on his series of paintings of his native city.  An excellent visual comparison of his historic views with the present can be found here.  In addition to painting, he wrote and published a number of reports on geology and history.

Unmarried and destitute, James Eights moved to his sister's home in Ballston Spa where he died of Bright's Disease on June 22 1882.  He was eighty-four years old.  Two days later, he was buried in his family's plot on the Middle Ridge.  The eastern face of the monument bearing his name is rather worn and difficult to read, but his parents' names on the north face of the marble are fairly legible.

1 comment:

  1. That's very cool. I know his work, but if I ever chanced upon his monument, I was unaware of it. But then again, I never put together the pyramid that marks Samuel Brown's grave with his having been the driving force behind bringing the mummies to Albany. So much going on in this cemetery.