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Fit for a Queen: The Legacy of Sidney E. King

Sidney King: "It's a colorful country of ours. I've made it my business to make sure Mr. and Mrs. America get a glimpse of things as they happened." - from James A. Crutchfield 's Tribute to an Artist, the Jamestown Paintings of Sidney E. King

Sidney E. King's paintings told young Queen Elizabeth II the story of Jamestown during her 1957 visit.

Along the newly created Wilderness Trail around Jamestown Island, King's series of large oil paintings depicted the life and times of the first permanent English settlement in North America. The Queen went back to England with a special copy of A Pictorial Album of Jamestown, filled with the Caroline County artist's illustrations.

Fifty years later, when Elizabeth returns May 3 and 4 for Jamestown's 400th Anniversary, Sidney King's paintings will again be in the spotlight with the publication of a handsome new book: Tribute to an Artist, the Jamestown Paintings of Sidney E. King by James A. Crutchfield (Dietz Press, Richmond, Va.). Thirty-nine of King's Jamestown paintings are beautifully reproduced in color. Most of the originals are now in the Colonial National Historical Park, Jamestown Collection; a few are in the collections of Colonial Williamsburg and the Association for the Preservation of Virginia Antiquities.

Author of 40 books on American history, Crutchfield gives detailed explanations of each painting. His biography of the artist covers a career which spanned nearly 80 years and continued almost until his death at the age of 95.

Crutchfield describes Sidney King as "a master with oils, acrylics and watercolors" and a precision pen and ink artist. He painted nearly 200 historical murals for National Park Service properties throughout the eastern half of the United States. Crutchfield quotes King: "My primary purpose is historical accuracy in pictures that tell the story of the past in an interesting manner."

Sidney King was spectacular as a muralist. His is the largest mural ever to be painted in the United States -- 400 feet long by 75 feet high. Titled "Creation," it covers the encircling walls of the dome of the North Visitors Center on Temple Square in Salt Lake City, Utah. Also in Salt Lake City, another huge King mural "The Life of Christ" was first seen by thousands in the Mormon Pavilion at the New York World's Fair of 1964.

De'Onne C. Scott, Fredericksburg author of the "postcard series" books on Fredericksburg and Stafford County, has made an invaluable contribution to Sidney King's legacy with her 2001 Sidney E. King, Artist, available in the Virginiana Room of the Central Rappahannock Regional Library in Fredericksburg. She has accomplished a monumental task, with locations, dates, measurements and information about the paintings and sketches. She calls her listings "a partial catalog" since she hopes and expects to discover more paintings and sketches to include in her second edition.

Sidney KingBoth Scott and Crutchfield emphasize Sidney King's meticulous research to insure historical accuracy. He consulted historians and archaeologists; he traveled to England for a firsthand look at 17th-century structures. The face of Christ in his Mormon murals is based on a description given in an address to the Roman Senate. King worked with chemists to develop pigments which would withstand harsh weather conditions.

Born on August 22, 1906, in Dorchester, Massachusetts, Sidney King soon knew he wanted to be a painter. He studied under famous artist John Singer Sargent in nearby Boston. After losing his Boston studio during the Depression, he traveled the United States in a Model T Ford painting scenes in watercolor.

Jamestown's Starving TimeIn 1939 King found himself stranded in Fredericksburg, almost penniless after the tour group he had been conducting ceased operations. Here he painted signs and drew newspaper advertisements. During World War II he worked at Quantico, camouflaging combat planes and designing aircraft insignia and recruiting posters.

He also met and married Peggy Taylor, who became his invaluable assistant, handling the business part of his career. They lived in Caroline County in her ancestral home, "The Willows," near Bowling Green. King built his shed-like studio near their house.

The National Park Service hired King to paint signs and then paintings. Over the next few years, after the 350th Jamestown Anniversary paintings, he painted nearly 200 historic murals in National Parks all over the eastern United States.

Sidney King's commissions for the National Park Service included paintings and murals at...
Fredericksburg & Spotsylvania National Military Park Colonial National Historical Park, Yorktown
Blue Ridge Parkway Booker T. Washington National Monument, Hardy, VA
Fort Raleigh National Historic Site, Manteo, NC Gettysburg National Military Park
Kennesaw Mountain National Military Park, Marietta, Ga. Pea Ridge National Park, Arkansas
Petersburg National Battlefield Richmond National Battlefield Park

James Crutchfield describes Kings's commissions as "practically endless." Indeed they were, and over the years continued unabated. On the day of a 1988 Fredericksburg Times's interview (published November 1988) he was completing a huge painting depicting the last meeting of Robert E. Lee and Stonewall Jackson. It was a commission from a New Jersey gentleman who already had 250 King paintings in his collection.

He also was completing 36 separate panels for the Virginia Baptist Historical Society illustrating significant events in Virginia Baptist history. Another 1988 commission for a private collector was a smaller version of the Mormon murals.

Throughout the Fredericksburg area, Sidney King paintings are often just a few steps away. Just a small sampling of locations include the Fredericksburg & Spotsylvania National Military Park, PNC bank (both in the Fall Hill Avenue and Princess Anne Street locations), Union Bank and Trust in Bowling Green, the First Christian Church on Washington Avenue, in Fredericksburg, the Salvation Army Church on Lafayette Boulevard, Fredericksburg.

Sidney King's sketches and paintings illustrated these and other publications...
Elsie, Elsie! For Girls of Any Age by Thelma W. Bastow Colonel John Pelham: Lee's Boy Artillerist by William W. Hassler
Ferry Farm, A Story of George Washington's Boyhood by Gilchrist Waring Green Mount, A Virginia Plantation During the Civil War: Being the Journal of Benjamin Robert Fleet and Letters of His Family
Ironworker magazine Washington's Boyhood by Miriam Haynie
A Pictorial Story of Jamestown, Virginia by J. Paul Hudson Road to Revolution: Virginia's Rebels from Boston to Jefferson, 1676-1776 by Charles Hoskins
Settlers, Southerners, Americans: The History of Essex County, Virginia 1608-1984 by James B. Slaughter The Stronghold: A Story of Historic Northern Neck of Virginia and Its People by Miriam Haynie
He continued painting six days a week until past the age of 92 and held two shows a year at his studio. He painted with the same dedication, talent and versatility—landscapes, people, animals, flowers, still lifes, religious and historical subjects. He also taught art at Rappahannock Community College at Warsaw, and in the Tappahannock and Bowling Green areas.

Sidney King died April 24, 2002 at "The Willows." He was survived by his second wife, Mary Keeler King, a sister, and two step-children.

His bountiful legacy of artistic talent also survives him online. The classic New Discoveries at Jamestown, featuring the Sidney King's work, has been preserved as part of the Gutenberg Project.

The growing educational resource Virtual Jamestown has also collected some of his paintings on the Web.

The Biographers

James A. Crutchfield, executive director of Western Writers of America, is the author of 40 books dealing with American history, including The Grand Adventure: A Year by Year History of Virginia and George Washington: First in War, First in Peace. He serves on the board of National Scholars for Presidents' Park in Williamsburg, Va.

De'Onne C. Scott's books Fredericksburg and Stafford County are filled with vintage postcard and photographic views of the localities. She also has written James Monroe Living in Fredericksburg, The Life of Hugh Stephens Doggett, 1816-1899, Belmont and the Melchers, and The History of Haydon Hall.