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My Latest Work: Pirate Illustrations for the Travel Channel

by Waitsel Smith

Let me know what you think or .

Last fall, I was asked to do some illustrations for a series on the Travel Channel called "Hidden City," dealing with infamous crimes in places that people like to visit. One of the episodes - which airs Tuesday, January 24 at 9 PM - is about the Florida Keys, and involves a notorious pirate named Black Caesar, who roamed the Keys in the late seventeenth and early eighteenth centuries. The filmmakers at Crazy Legs Productions here in Atlanta, producers of the series, needed some illustrations of the pirate, since very few pictures had ever been done of him. I accepted the commission, and below are the results. I hope you enjoy them. I also hope you will watch the show next Tuesday night on the Travel Channel. It's very entertaining.

Red Knight - Original Oil Painting by Waitsel Smith

The story of Black Caesar is interesting and, in many ways, chilling. He was an African chief of immense size, who, after many failed attempts, was finally lured onto a slave ship with the promise of shiny trinkets. Once on board, the ship raised anchor and set sail for the New World. But on the way, the ship was caught in a storm and all hands were lost - all except for Black Caesar and a sailor that had befriended him. Together they escaped in a longboat to the Florida Keys.

Model set-up for Red Knight painting. 1/6 scale figures of knight and horse.

Once there, the two castaways decided to turn to piracy, robbing ships by posing as sailors in distress. These were the days of the Spanish Main, when a tremendous volume of gold, mined in America and then converted into doubloons, was being shipped on galleons back to Spain. The idea was to come alongside a vessel in their longboat, and, once on board, to pull out their blunderbusses. The ploy of the pirates worked so well that, over time, they amassed a fortune, as well as built up a harem of over 100 kidnapped women.

Scottish Castle with Heather - Original Oil Painting by Artist Waitsel Smith

Black Caesar was a heartless tyrant, who had little regard for anyone but himself. Often, when he and his partner went off on a raid, they left their prisoners without food and water. When they returned, many would be dead. Often the pirates quarreled. On one occasion, they got into such a heated debate over one particularly choice female captive, that Caesar finally ended the argument, and his partnership, on the blade of his knife.

Scottish Castle with Heather - Detail - Oil Painting by Artist Waitsel Smith

As I worked on these paintings, I was struck by the fact that such gruesome events had taken place in such idyllic settings. I also wondered what in the world these pirates thought they were going to do with so much gold. It's not as if they could go somewhere to spend it. It seems the surroundings, and the gold, were wasted on these men.

Scottish Castle with Heather - Detail 2 - Oil Painting by Artist Waitsel Smith

Something else I wondered about: What were these women doing in the New World? Were they here with the Conquistadors? Or were they pilgrims, come to the New World to make a new life? Regardless of circumstances, what a shocking turn of events - to end up in Black Caesar's harem, or worse!

Scottish Castle with Heather - Detail 3 - Oil Painting by Artist Waitsel Smith

Eventually, Black Caesar was captured and burned at the stake. The wife of one of his victims, a preacher whose eyes Caesar had burned out, had the honor of lighting the pyre. I suppose most of Caesar's women eventually returned to civilization. But he did have children by some of them, and their descendants are said to be among the inhabitants of the Florida Keys today.

Scottish Castle with Heather - Detail 4 - Original Oil Painting by Artist Waitsel Smith

There's an alternate ending to this story: instead of being captured and burned, it is said that Black Caesar later joined Blackbeard in the Carolinas, where he became Blackbeard's right-hand man. Eventually, both men were captured and hung. Whether this was another pirate calling himself Black Caesar, or the same as the one that plagued the Florida Keys, is unknown.

Scottish Castle with Heather - Detail 5 - Original Oil Painting by Artist Waitsel Smith

Also unknown is the whereabouts of Black Caesar's treasure. Floridians are convinced it is still hidden somewhere among the Keys; and many a treasure hunter has ventured forth hoping to find it, only to return empty-handed. No telling how many human skeletons would be mixed among the chests of doubloons, if they were to find it, since Black Caesar seemed to live by the motto, "Dead men tell no tales."

To commission a similar work, go to www.creativeillustrator.net or email me at waitsel@waitsel.com

Waitsel Smith

Waitsel Smith, January 17, 2012

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[Send me yours and I'll include them on this page. Let me know what you think.]

I completely enjoyed reading this. Love the artwork. We'll be watching on TV. [During show, Jay texted me with, "Watching!! Love it. Proud of u buddy." That meant a lot.]. - Jay, Atlanta

I've looked through your engaging writings. I guess my first comment/observation is how willing and eager you are to share your perspective with others, particularly when endorsing political views. Your thoughts on capitalism are excellent. I think they were included in the Bedford Falls article. Whether one agrees with you or not, and I do, a quote from Theresa Bayer (an artist somewhere out there) comes to mind (I did look it up): "I don't think artists can avoid being political. Artists are the proverbial canaries in the coal mine. When we stop singing, it's a sure sign of repressive times ahead." Best wishes in your efforts to educate us during a critical election year. - Bobbi, Wyoming

I saw that program the other night on the travel channel. I really enjoyed your illustrations, but didn't care too much for the program. So now you're famous! I'm still waiting for your book. You have a way of writing that keeps my interest no matter the topic (blades of grass growing?) Oh, and when you do get published, let me know how you did it. My son is writing 11 books (basically he's working on one but has titles and summaries for the others). He seems to really enjoy writing so who knows. He could be a famous author one day (he's 12)! - Laura, Atlanta

I finally got to watch the Black Caesar sequence! Very good! I thought your blog about Black Caesar was better than what the guy on TV gave and I'll wager he earned a lot more off his effort than you did off yours! It's cool, though, to get your work featured on a national TV program, it it not? - Dennis

Thanks for all your great comments!

Text © 2012 Waitsel Smith. Artwork © 2012 Crazy Legs Productions. All Rights Reserved.