Civil War exhibit ‘Through Artists’ Eyes’ opens at TMAWritten by Danielle Stanton | | firstname.lastname@example.org
As battles waged between Northern and Southern troops — smoke clogging the air, muskets firing and artillery shells booming — artists sat amidst the carnage with their sketchbooks, capturing the images to send back to communities eager for information about the Civil War.
These artists and photographers, called “specials” in the 1860s, worked for newspapers and magazines to give Americans an accounting of the war and were often embedded with the troops.
To mark the 150th anniversary of the Civil War’s end, the Toledo Museum of Art (TMA) has gathered renderings, photographs and artifacts created by Civil War artists for a free exhibit called “The American Civil War: Through Artists’ Eyes,” which opened April 3 and runs through July 5.
The exhibit’s curator, Ed Hill, has spent nine months collecting works from the William L. Clements Library at the University of Michigan, the Rutherford B. Hayes Presidential Center in Fremont and the Oregon-Jerusalem Historical Society as well as works from private collectors. The exhibit also contains 50 objects from TMA’s own collection.
“I wanted to do a show not to celebrate the war, but to acknowledge and remember it,” said Hill, who also curated the museum’s 2013 exhibition, “Perry’s Victory: The Battle of Lake Erie.”
“I wanted to show how many different ways artists look at the Civil War,” he said.
During a reporter’s tour of the exhibit March 31, Gallery 28 and 29 still contained boxes of artifacts waiting to be placed. Sketches and renderings adorned the walls.
The focal piece of the exhibit is a large 1893 painting titled “Battery H 1st Ohio Volunteers Light Artillery in Action at Cold Harbor,” by Gilbert Gaul, on loan from the Oregon-Jerusalem Historical Society. The piece, commissioned by the soldiers years later, depicts Northwest Ohio soldiers in a brutal clash with Southern troops.
The soldiers paid $2,000 to commission the painting, Hill said. They didn’t want a granite monument like many of the battalions and regiments of the time.
Other objects in the exhibit include a portrait of President Hayes when he was a colonel, a sword he carried in battle, a bronze cast of President Abraham Lincoln’s hand, “Gardner’s Photographic Sketch Book of the War” and a Civil War toy made about 20 years after the war.
The exhibit is divided into subjects that include hospitals, prisons, Lincoln, artists’ drawings, satirical prints, music, photography and people from Northwest Ohio, Hill said.
Photography was an important medium of the time, although photographers were limited because they couldn’t take live action shots, Hill said. Oftentimes, the dead soldiers were posed in the field to create the image the artist wanted.
Photographer Alexander Gardner’s “Gardner’s Photographic Sketch Book of the War” from TMA’s collection will be on display in the exhibit. It was published in two volumes, becoming one of the most important books published in American history and one of the most significant works of photojournalism, according to a news release. The fragile volumes are rarely on display.
The museum is also hosting several free events during the exhibit, including two military re-enactments, performances by an old-fashioned American brass band, lectures and a film series.
On June 6, the Fifth United States Colored Troops Co. G, a local group of African-American re-enactors, will visit. Eight soldiers and eight women “camp followers” will be on the museum grounds from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. to discuss the lives of black soldiers and the black women who followed them.
On June 19 and 20, the modern Battery H Civil War re-enactors will be at the museum to give cannon demonstrations. They represent the artillery battalion in Gaul’s painting in the exhibit. Eighteen re-enactors will set up and demonstrate an authentic Civil War cannon.
For museum hours and more information, visit toledomuseum.org.