Media: Slideshow

A Selection of John White's Watercolors

A Festive Dance

This watercolor by English artist John White shows a festive dance scene in Secotan, an Indian town in the Outer Banks region of present-day North Carolina. White visited the town in July 1585, when a great religious ceremony, perhaps connected to the corn harvest, was taking place. Indians from other towns had come for the event, "every man attyred in the most strange fashion they can devise havinge certayne marks on the backs to declare of what place they bee," according to a description of the scene written by Thomas Hariot who accompanied White on the expedition. Both men and women sang and danced—some of them shaking gourds or pumpkin rattles, others carrying branches with leaves—around "Three of the fayrest Virgins" at center. The dancing occurred in an open plain where wooden poles had been placed in a circle; the posts were "carved with heads like ... the faces of Nonnes covered with theyr vayles." (Some of Hariot’s spelling has been modernized.)

The Indians who resided in Secotan were closely related in language and culture to the Indians of Tidewater Virginia; thus, White's painting, and others he made at the time, are an important source of historical and ethnographic information about both groups. The English at Jamestown in the early seventeenth century noted that the Powhatan Indians danced almost every night.

Original Author: John White

Created: ca. 1585

Medium: Watercolor

Courtesy of ©The Trustees of the British Museum. All rights reserved.

The seething of their meate. in Potts of earth.

This watercolor by the English artist John White depicts corn and other foodstuffs—probably grains, vegetables, herbs, fish, and meat—being cooked in an earthen pot over an open fire by Indians in the Outer Banks region of present-day North Carolina.The Indians who resided there were closely related in language and culture to the Indians of Tidewater Virginia; thus, White's painting, and others he made at the time, are an important source of historical and ethnographic information about both groups.

In 1585 White accompanied a failed colonizing expedition to Roanoke Island, from which he made a series of watercolor drawings of Indian life. The Indians he encountered simmered their meals all day and night in pots such as this one, made out of local clay and crushed shells.

White painted this watercolor over black lead and used touches of gold and white. On the watercolor he inscribed a description of the scene in brown ink: "The seething of their meate. in Potts of earth." 

Original Author: John White

Created: ca. 1585

Medium: Watercolor

Courtesy of ©The Trustees of the British Museum. All rights reserved.

Secoton

This watercolor by English artist John White shows a bird's-eye view of the Indian town of Secotan in the Outer Banks region of present-day North Carolina. White visited the town in July 1585. White's detailed rendering of the town shows that the houses the Indians lived in were rounded structures with walls made of bark or reed mats that could be lifted to permit more light and air. He also indicated fields of corn—one of which is being tended by a guard—at varying stages of growth ("newly sprong," "greene," and "rype"). The village bustles with activity: participants in a ceremony at bottom right dance about "posts carved on the topps lyke mens faces" while several people eat a meal nearby ("sitting at meate").

Original Author: John White

Created: ca. 1585

Medium: Watercolor

Courtesy of ©The Trustees of the British Museum. All rights reserved.

The towne of Pomeiock

This watercolor by the English artist John White shows the fortified Indian town of Pomeiooc in the Outer Banks region of present-day North Carolina. White visited the town in July 1585. The Indians who resided there were closely related in language and culture to the Indians of Tidewater Virginia; thus, White's painting, and others he made at the time, are an important source of historical and ethnographic information about both groups.

Inside the palisaded town were round houses of the same type Powhatans used, as well as longhouses with the sides open, revealing benches for sleeping. The houses are covered "some wth matts, and some wth barcks of trees," according to White's inscription at the bottom of the drawing. Residents gather around the fire at the center of the town. A few Indians can be seen carrying a bow, another an axe; a dog is seen in the upper left.

Original Author: John White

Created: ca. 1585

Medium: Watercolor

Courtesy of ©The Trustees of the British Museum. All rights reserved.

An Ossuary Temple

This circa 1585 watercolor by on-the-scene English artist John White shows the bodies of dead Algonquian chiefs, or weroances, who were preserved and venerated in an ossuary temple. The artist rolled up the reed mats that formed one side of the temple in order to portray a full interior view. According to the handwritten inscription at top, the flesh was entirely removed from the dead bodies, dried, and stored in the mats shown next to the corpses’ feet. The skeletons were then “covered with deare skynns.” placed on a platform in the temple, and guarded by a painted wooden idol known as Kiwasa (here spelled “Kywash”). A ceremonial fire burns beneath the platform.

John White accompanied a failed colonizing expedition to Roanoke Island in the Outer Banks region of present-day North Carolina in 1585, and the artist produced a number of watercolor paintings showing village life as it was lived by the Algonquian-speaking Indians in the region. These Indians are closely related in language and culture to the Indians of Tidewater Virginia, and White's works, along with their related engravings, are important sources of historical and ethnographic information about both groups.

Original Author: John White

Created: ca. 1585

Medium: Watercolor

Courtesy of ©The Trustees of the British Museum. All rights reserved.

La Virginea Pars

This map, drawn by the English artist John White, provides a detailed rendering of the east coast of North America from the Chesapeake Bay (at top) to Cape Lookout in present-day North Carolina. In 1585 White accompanied some 600 men in a failed colonizing expedition to Roanoke Island, which is shown here as a pink island ("Roanoac") between the mainland and the barrier islands of the Outer Banks. Five ships and two smaller pinnaces transported the colonists. The flagship Tiger, under the command of Sir Richard Grenville, can be seen at bottom.

Thomas Hariot, an English mathematician, astronomer, linguist, and experimental scientist, was also part of the expedition and helped provide measurements for the map. Kim Sloane, curator of British drawings and watercolors at the British Museum, the institution that owns White's drawings, speculates that Hariot was not alone in surveying the region and that others also supplied detailed sketches that went into the final creation of the map.

An expert in White's drawings, David Beers Quinn, described this particular map as "the most careful detailed piece of cartography for any part of North America to be made in the sixteenth century." The accuracy of the map holds up remarkably well: when a modern satellite photograph was placed on top of it, the only difference was in the configuration of the Outer Banks, which had changed over time.

Original Author: John White

Created: ca. 1585

Medium: Watercolor

Courtesy of ©The Trustees of the British Museum. All rights reserved.

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  • A Festive Dance

    This watercolor by English artist John White shows a festive dance scene in Secotan, an Indian town in the Outer Banks region of present-day North Carolina. White visited the town in July 1585, when a great religious ceremony, perhaps connected to the corn harvest, was taking place. Indians from other towns had come for the event, "every man attyred in the most strange fashion they can devise havinge certayne marks on the backs to declare of what place they bee," according to a description of the scene written by Thomas Hariot who accompanied White on the expedition. Both men and women sang and danced—some of them shaking gourds or pumpkin rattles, others carrying branches with leaves—around "Three of the fayrest Virgins" at center. The dancing occurred in an open plain where wooden poles had been placed in a circle; the posts were "carved with heads like ... the faces of Nonnes covered with theyr vayles." (Some of Hariot’s spelling has been modernized.)

    The Indians who resided in Secotan were closely related in language and culture to the Indians of Tidewater Virginia; thus, White's painting, and others he made at the time, are an important source of historical and ethnographic information about both groups. The English at Jamestown in the early seventeenth century noted that the Powhatan Indians danced almost every night.

    Original Author: John White

    Created: ca. 1585

    Medium: Watercolor

    Courtesy of ©The Trustees of the British Museum. All rights reserved.

  • The seething of their meate. in Potts of earth.

    This watercolor by the English artist John White depicts corn and other foodstuffs—probably grains, vegetables, herbs, fish, and meat—being cooked in an earthen pot over an open fire by Indians in the Outer Banks region of present-day North Carolina.The Indians who resided there were closely related in language and culture to the Indians of Tidewater Virginia; thus, White's painting, and others he made at the time, are an important source of historical and ethnographic information about both groups.

    In 1585 White accompanied a failed colonizing expedition to Roanoke Island, from which he made a series of watercolor drawings of Indian life. The Indians he encountered simmered their meals all day and night in pots such as this one, made out of local clay and crushed shells.

    White painted this watercolor over black lead and used touches of gold and white. On the watercolor he inscribed a description of the scene in brown ink: "The seething of their meate. in Potts of earth." 

    Original Author: John White

    Created: ca. 1585

    Medium: Watercolor

    Courtesy of ©The Trustees of the British Museum. All rights reserved.

  • Secoton

    This watercolor by English artist John White shows a bird's-eye view of the Indian town of Secotan in the Outer Banks region of present-day North Carolina. White visited the town in July 1585. White's detailed rendering of the town shows that the houses the Indians lived in were rounded structures with walls made of bark or reed mats that could be lifted to permit more light and air. He also indicated fields of corn—one of which is being tended by a guard—at varying stages of growth ("newly sprong," "greene," and "rype"). The village bustles with activity: participants in a ceremony at bottom right dance about "posts carved on the topps lyke mens faces" while several people eat a meal nearby ("sitting at meate").

    Original Author: John White

    Created: ca. 1585

    Medium: Watercolor

    Courtesy of ©The Trustees of the British Museum. All rights reserved.

  • The towne of Pomeiock

    This watercolor by the English artist John White shows the fortified Indian town of Pomeiooc in the Outer Banks region of present-day North Carolina. White visited the town in July 1585. The Indians who resided there were closely related in language and culture to the Indians of Tidewater Virginia; thus, White's painting, and others he made at the time, are an important source of historical and ethnographic information about both groups.

    Inside the palisaded town were round houses of the same type Powhatans used, as well as longhouses with the sides open, revealing benches for sleeping. The houses are covered "some wth matts, and some wth barcks of trees," according to White's inscription at the bottom of the drawing. Residents gather around the fire at the center of the town. A few Indians can be seen carrying a bow, another an axe; a dog is seen in the upper left.

    Original Author: John White

    Created: ca. 1585

    Medium: Watercolor

    Courtesy of ©The Trustees of the British Museum. All rights reserved.

  • An Ossuary Temple

    This circa 1585 watercolor by on-the-scene English artist John White shows the bodies of dead Algonquian chiefs, or weroances, who were preserved and venerated in an ossuary temple. The artist rolled up the reed mats that formed one side of the temple in order to portray a full interior view. According to the handwritten inscription at top, the flesh was entirely removed from the dead bodies, dried, and stored in the mats shown next to the corpses’ feet. The skeletons were then “covered with deare skynns.” placed on a platform in the temple, and guarded by a painted wooden idol known as Kiwasa (here spelled “Kywash”). A ceremonial fire burns beneath the platform.

    John White accompanied a failed colonizing expedition to Roanoke Island in the Outer Banks region of present-day North Carolina in 1585, and the artist produced a number of watercolor paintings showing village life as it was lived by the Algonquian-speaking Indians in the region. These Indians are closely related in language and culture to the Indians of Tidewater Virginia, and White's works, along with their related engravings, are important sources of historical and ethnographic information about both groups.

    Original Author: John White

    Created: ca. 1585

    Medium: Watercolor

    Courtesy of ©The Trustees of the British Museum. All rights reserved.

  • La Virginea Pars

    This map, drawn by the English artist John White, provides a detailed rendering of the east coast of North America from the Chesapeake Bay (at top) to Cape Lookout in present-day North Carolina. In 1585 White accompanied some 600 men in a failed colonizing expedition to Roanoke Island, which is shown here as a pink island ("Roanoac") between the mainland and the barrier islands of the Outer Banks. Five ships and two smaller pinnaces transported the colonists. The flagship Tiger, under the command of Sir Richard Grenville, can be seen at bottom.

    Thomas Hariot, an English mathematician, astronomer, linguist, and experimental scientist, was also part of the expedition and helped provide measurements for the map. Kim Sloane, curator of British drawings and watercolors at the British Museum, the institution that owns White's drawings, speculates that Hariot was not alone in surveying the region and that others also supplied detailed sketches that went into the final creation of the map.

    An expert in White's drawings, David Beers Quinn, described this particular map as "the most careful detailed piece of cartography for any part of North America to be made in the sixteenth century." The accuracy of the map holds up remarkably well: when a modern satellite photograph was placed on top of it, the only difference was in the configuration of the Outer Banks, which had changed over time.

    Original Author: John White

    Created: ca. 1585

    Medium: Watercolor

    Courtesy of ©The Trustees of the British Museum. All rights reserved.