Tusculum art professor tells the myth of ETSU's Bucky

Brandon Paykamian • Apr 10, 2019 at 9:40 AM

Original paintings of the “Tennessee Pioneer” and “Tennessee Buccaneer” will be on display Thursday at Tusculum University, giving life to the mascots of both Tusculum and East Tennessee State University.

Bill Bledsoe, an assistant professor in Tusculum’s art program and ETSU alumnus, said the unveiling of his paintings — along with student oil paintings of German architecture and landscapes — will be part of an exhibit called “Mascot: Legend of an Icon,” which will be held from 5-7 p.m. in the Shulman Center’s Clem Allison Gallery.

At the event, Bledsoe will also unveil a book telling the story of ETSU’s beloved mascot, titled “Liam McNaughton: Legend of the Tennessee Buccaneer,” which follows the Buccaneer on his journey from Scotland to America. 

“Mythology and legend are, in and of itself, fictitious, but it encapsulates and incorporates actual history and actual things that happened,” Bledsoe said. “It focuses on a figure who is fictional, but he actually encapsulates the lives of people from Scotland who were trying to make their way to America.”

While Tusculum’s Pioneer mascot immediately makes sense to many as a symbol of the state’s oldest higher education institution, the history behind Bucky the Buccaneer is a bit less obvious. 

But after doing some historical research, Bledsoe found a plausible backstory. He said he found it fairly easy to fill in the blanks and discover the regional significance of the buccaneer, despite ETSU being in a landlocked region. 

“It actually parallels real history,” Bledsoe said. “When I started doing all this research, all this stuff came up.”

The story begins with the Battle of Culloden in Scotland in 1746 — the last chance the Scots had to put a Scottish king on the throne. When they lost, many children were orphaned and put into indentured servitude, leading many to serve as buccaneers for the British Crown.

“The character in the book is fictional, but every last bit of the rest of it is chronologically correct from 1746 at the Battle at Culloden in Scotland all the way up to the Battle of Kings Mountain in 1780.

“That’s the timeframe I have the buccaneer live in. In fact, his name is the namesake of four men who came from Scotland at the same time who fought at Kings Mountain.

“That’s how the Buccaneer ultimately makes his way to East Tennessee,” Bledsoe said. 

Bledsoe said the fictional story of Bucky also loosely mirrors the life of John Paul Jones, naval commander of the Continental Navy during the American Revolutionary War and native of Scotland. While Bucky ends up in Central Appalachia, Jones ended up in Philadelphia and later, Paris. 

“Basically, our buccaneer's life parallels the life of John Paul Jones, except he went up north,” Bledsoe said.

When Bledsoe first brought up the idea of Bucky’s backstory to ETSU President Brian Noland, Bledsoe said he was intrigued with the idea of tying Bucky’s story to the story of the Scots-Irish buccaneers of the 18th century. 

“He was fascinated with it. He thought it’d be great to have a backstory because, like a lot of other people he was like, ‘What’s all this about the Buccaneers?’ ” Bledsoe said.

Bledsoe said the Buccaneer is the perfect mascot for ETSU for other reasons, as well. Early buccaneer ships were governed democratically. The crew members made decisions through voting, and they were generally treated as equals. 

“A buccaneer ship was the only pure form of democracy exercised in the world,” he said. “As a symbol for a university, the fact that all those people were inclusive — there was no issue with race or gender, and it was the purest form of democracy you could find — that becomes such a significant symbol for a university.”

Bledsoe’s book incorporates some of the work of Bledsoe’s students, who recently visited sites such as the Brandenburg Gate, Magdeburg Cathedral, and a bridge in Berlin to learn more about German expressionism.

For more information on Bledsoe's book, art and the work of his students, visit www.tusculum.edu

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