Sunday, August 14, 2011

Civil War Sunday - Thomas Nast and Winslow Homer

 I am not an artist.  I can barely draw a stick figure.  So I have always had great admiration for those who can take those images in their mind and actually translate them into something we can recognize, and appreciate.  Or can take something they see and make us see it too.

I know a number of people who have studied art as adults and have taken lessons, especially in painting. (If I go this route of lesson taking, I will choose photography as the means of expressing myself.)  I know it is not easy.  And how much harder would it be to do this in the midst of a war?

Last week, I wrote about Civil War "image making" (what they called photography back then during the infancy of photography).  This week-well, art has been with us as long as we have been human, documenting our daily lives.

The Civil War is no exception.

I received some nice comments on a blog post I made earlier this week about the popularity of color by number pencil sets in my childhood,.  I'm not an artist, and not an art historian but I do enjoy art as an observer and respect its role in helping us understand history.  Accordingly, I decided to look into the art of the Civil War.  Not the art of today that uses the Civil War as its subject, but rather the art of the Civil War used to record it as it occurred.  I was very surprised to see the names of two artists who gained fame later in the 1800's.

From my studies of history, I know the name of Thomas Nast , who crusaded against the Tammany Hall political machine in New York City. (In fact, Thomas Nast is buried near where I grew up in the Bronx.).  If you identify the elephant with the Republican Party and the donkey with the Democratic Party, you know of the works of Thomas Nast.  If you visualize Santa Claus as the plump, jolly man with the white beard and red suit trimmed in white fur, you are visualizing Santa Claus as first drawn by Thomas Nast.  What I did not know is that Thomas Nast started his career (he was barely in his 20's when the war started) as a Civil War illustrator- very much on the side of the North.

And then there is Winslow Homer, known for his art (in various media) of hunters, farmers, women (farm women, teachers, and others) and the peaceful coast of Maine.  He, too, started out as a Civil War artist.

This site explains Civil War art in a lot more detail, should you want to learn more on the subject.  One day I might, too.  History is composed of so many things, and artistic expression is so much a part of the human experience.

I am grateful that comments from a blog post led me down this road.  Thank you.

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