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Archive for August, 2011

On a recent visit to the US Army War College , I joined David Birdwell, Instructional Systems Specialist for a tour of their vast collection of 21st century Civil War art.  This afforded a unique look at a dynamic collection as well as the US Government’s recognition of the importance of past battles.  Birdwell also pointed out the many similarities between Civil War soldiers, tactics, and logistical undertakings that are still used in training our elite troops.  

This video gives you some perspective of the US Army War College collection, the passion and learning that fills the hallways.

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One of the most distinguished names in Civil War history, Dr. Robertson was Executive Director of the U.S. Civil War Centennial Commission and worked with Presidents Truman, Kennedy, and Johnson in marking the war’s 100th anniversary.  He has educated the young minds at Virginia Tech for years and has recently retired as Professor of History.  Dr. Robertson also serves as charter member appointed by Senate, for the Virginia Civil War Sesquicentennial Commission.

Professor Robertson is the author or editor of more than twenty books that include such award-winning studies as Civil War! America Becomes One Nation, General A.P. Hill, and Soldiers Blue and Gray. His massive biography of Stonewall Jackson won eight national awards and was used as the basis for the movie “Gods and Generals.” Robertson was chief historical consultant for the film. Professor Robertson is the recipient of every major award in his field, and is a popular and renowned lecturer on the Civil War. He is retiring as Alumni Distinguished Professor, one of ten such honorees among 2,200 faculty members at Virginia Tech. He is also Executive Director of the Virginia Center for Civil War Studies, created in 1999.

The video below contains excerpts from my interview with Dr. Robertson



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This thesis experience has given me  new perspective on how much hard work, detail and artistry goes into mapping history.

I’ve been following The Gettysburg Daily since starting on this endeavor and their work deserves recognition.

A recent series on the Devil’s Den, highlights the importance of art from the Civil War being used to increase the understanding of the battle and battlefield at Gettysburg.

The two licensed battlefield guides, Garry Adelman and Tim Smith, educate in 12 videos, using historical photography and their own analysis of the land, how the area was used during the Battle of Gettysburg, as well as later, after the Civil War.

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Keith Rocco’s historical paintings are careful representations of the past, immortalized on canvas.  Rocco has been honing his craft since he was a child and received a book on the Civil War for Christmas.  He spent his youth copying the illustrations out of books and studying history.  Rocco’s paintings are carefully planned out and meticulously executed.  He works with historians and depending on where the event he is painting took place, will reach out to local historians and museums for detailed analysis.  Rocco does as much research as possible before taking brush to canvas and takes great lengths to ensure what he is painting is accurate.

Civil War Artist Keith Rocco

ArtistKeith Rocco

Birthplace: Illinois

Studio:  Shenandoah Valley, VA

Galleries/Museums: “In 1985 Rocco was proclaimed by the French magazine Uniformes, as a ‘artist in the tradition of Remington and Detaille.'” His paintings have been exhibited and commissioned by, the Andrew Mellon Foundation, the Pentagon, the Atlanta Historical Society, the House of Representatives, Gettysburg National Park, the City of Fredericksburg, Virginia, the National Guard Heritage Collection, and the U.S. Army War.  He has painted three murals for the Wisconsin Veterans Museum in Madison  College, six murals for the Pamplin Historical Park, a centerpiece mural “Gettysburg”, for the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum in Springfield, Illinois, and worked on commissions for the University of Illinois Press, University of Georgia Press, Chapel Hill, Military History, American History Illustrated, Napoleon Journal, Soldats Napoleonien, Le Livre Chez Vous and other publications.

Process:  Rocco is a calculated artist who researches and gathers information months in advance of a painting.  He has even been known to think about ideas for years before taking brush to canvas.  Rocco is a purest and his website bio hints at the historical perfection he strives to obtain.  “The small cup of earth on his studio shelf, for instance, was sent to confirm the color of the soil at Jamestown Colonial site,” (Rocco).

Rocco is also a collector of Civil War relics and his peers even comment on his array of Civil War memorabilia as impressive.   When I spoke with Steve Sylvia, President of Civil War Dealers and Collectors Association (CWDCA)  he explained that because Rocco is a collector, he is able to obtain accuracy based on his intimate familiarization with the artifacts of the Civil War.

 Keith Rocco, [is] considered [one of the] top in the world today.  More importantly, he is a collector.  He can offer another angle as a man who knows the details of the artifacts, uniforms, weapons, etc. and the appeal of such items to collectors.  This goes toward accuracy of detail and the reasoning behind that as opposed to say an Impressionistic representation, for example.

The 140th New York on Little Round Top, Artist Keith Rocco

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Gilbert Ouderkirk has made the annual eight-hour pilgrimage from Ontario, Canada to Gettysburg, Pa.  A welcomed face in the Dale Gallon Historical Art Gallery, Ouderkirk made his first trip to Gettysburg years ago with his wife after reading about the Civil War.  Being Canadian, Ouderkirk found the American Civil War fascinating and started ferociously reading accounts of battles, events, and turning-points of the Civil War.

“Mostly I collect the South, I’m not here to say who is right or who is wrong, I’m just here because it was an interesting and in many cases sad war, but very interesting to study.”

General James Longstreet Battle of Antietam, Maryland, 1862 General James Longstreet holding the horses for his staff while they worked Miller’s Battery of the Washington Artillery, September 17, 1862, Sharpsburg, MD. The Commanders Series

Ouderkirk has over a dozen Dale Gallon Commanders Series pieces that he proudly displays in his home.  Among his favorites are anything with Gen. Longstreet and Gen. Lee.  He does have a mixture of Confederate and Union pieces but admits his eye is mostly drawn to the South.

As he toured around the gallery he admitted, “I’m mostly just trying to find room to put these paintings in my house, you can’t just put them in a closet, eh?” he cheerfully said.

He points out the social relevance might be stronger with American’s but admits when he has guests over he always shows them his collection.  “It’s great that you can come here [Gettysburg] and something you tour every time you come well there’s a painting of it,” he said.

His extensive collection usually elicits a, ‘Wow, what’s that all about?’ and ‘What the heck ever got you interested in the Civil War?’  when he has visitors to his house and feels that a picture is worth a thousand words.  “They might not know a lot about the Civil War but when they see a painting, it sticks with them.”

Ouderkirk finds himself stopping at different paintings he has had for years and sees new elements in them each time.  “The paintings are a window to the past.  When you look at it [painting], well there it is and there you are,” he said.

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Mort Kunstler

Mort Künstler is a Civil War artist who is painting well into his eighties from a studio that boasts a backdrop of blue and grey. Located on Long Island, New York the casual visitor might first believe that Künstler is captivated by the sea, but his daughter Jane is quick to point out, “he lives on the water but he doesn’t paint seascapes because he thinks it is really boring, it’s not a challenge.  He loves looking at it but he doesn’t find it a challenge.”

Künstler rises to the challenge, capturing Civil War art and the passion that was evoked in events during the war. True to form, Künstler researches, walks, and talks the Civil War to get a better sense of the ideas, images, and first-hand accounts he is portraying.

Cognizant of painting an aestetically pleasing representation, Künstler’s pieces create a connection between the present day audience and the past faces of the war. “About half of Mort’s collectors are women which is surprising,” Jane comments.

Künstler’s artwork is sought after in the art collectors’ world.  At a recent museum exhibit at Booth Western Art Museum in Cartersville, Georgia visitors not only attended the event but inquired on purchasing the original works. “Three paintings were sold right away and it was the women who were just as, or more so, involved in the decision-making and choosing and interest and enthusiasm of the sale as the husband,” Jane explains.

Artist: Mort Künstler

Studio: Oyster Bay, Long Island New York

Education: Brooklyn College, U.C.L.A. and Pratt Institute

Previous Occupations: Illustrator for magazine copy in New York, National Geographic, Official NASA Space Shuttle Artist, film artist, CBS-TV The Blue and the Gray

Künstler’s objective is to paint paintings that allow the audience to feel as though they were there, in the moment.  His accuracy is noteworthy as is his choice in events to capture.  Künstler also looks for events that are less known but still send a strong message to those viewing the work.

Galleries/Museums: The American Spirit – The Paintings of Mort Kunstler, text written by, Henry Steele Commager, Gettysburg National Military Park Museum on July 2, 1988 (125th anniversary of the Civil War), painting, The High Water Mark, Images of the Civil War – The Paintings of Mort Kunstler, text written by James McPherson, Gettysburg – The Paintings of Mort Kunstler, text written by James McPherson, television show, Images of the Civil War – The Paintings of Mort Kunstler aired on A&E, Nassau County Museum of Art exhibit, The Civil War – The Paintings of Mort Kunstler, “Mort Kunstler Day” by Governor James Gilmore in 1999 and 200, Virginia, Museum of the Confederacy in Richmond exhibit, The Confederate Spirit: The Paintings of Mort Kunstler, Official Artist of the Ohio State Bicentennial, named official artists for the cinematic creation Gods and Generals, published book Gods and Generals: The Paintings of Mort Künstler, exhibit at the National Civil War Museum in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, given the Henry Timrod Southern Culture Award by the M.O.S.B., Jefferson Davis Southern Heritage Award from the Military Order of the Stars recipient.

Process:  Künstler works alongside historians and researches historic events that took place during the Civil War.  His passion for painting historically accurate events of the Civil War really ignited in 1998 after he was commissioned to create a Civil War cover illustration for the CBS-TV program, The Blue and the Gray.  He could paint anything but enjoys the challenge of accuracy and presenting a historical representation of an event.  Künstler relies on historians like Dr. James I. Robertson Jr., alumni and recently retired Professor at Virginia Tech in creating historically representative narrative paintings.

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This summer the Randolph County Community Arts Center is hosting a museum quality exhibit of Civil War art.  The collection which features the artists mentioned below, represents the best of Civil War art, painstakingly crafted using historical documentation.  Doreen Hall, a founding member of the art center board and gallery coordinator worked tirelessly on obtaining a museum-quality collection for the community.

Hall explains the social relevance of the Civil War in Elkins, West Virginia as profound, “everyone in the community has a connection to the Civil War because of our location and the events that took place here 150 years ago” she comments.  The Elkins area saw the first land battle of the Civil War in 1861.  This area was extremely important to the North and South because of the B&O Railroad.  During the 1800’s West Virginia was part of Virginia and the land within a 30 mile perimeter of Elkins saw ‘turf wars’ as General George B. McClellan (Union) moved 20,000+ troops to the area from Ohio and Indiana to control the railroad.  McClellan and his men were victorious and secured the location as a northern territory.  “Many outsiders forget what happened here in the Elkins area,” Hall explains, “We wanted to honor our history with visual representations.  Many people glass over this area and the fighting, we wanted to show it.”  The Randolph County Community Arts Center wanted to put a collection together for some time but struggled with ‘getting it right.’  She originally hoped the Community Art Center would obtain a slot for the traveling gallery of Mort Künstler’s works but the exhibit was booked from New York to Georgia, so she turned to the phones. With the assistance of sesquicentennial-celebration grant money, trustees, and persuasion, Hall started researching artists and cold-calling them to ask if they would loan a piece of artwork for display.  She said some were skeptical at first but when she shared with them her location, history, and followed each phone call with a letter explaining the importance of the area to the Civil War, they agreed.

Hall’s goal is to share with the people of her community, state, and country the importance of the Civil War and educate them about their own local history.  She believes the quality of the artwork stands as a reflection of the passion of individuals to preserve our American story.  The exhibit in Elkins has been extremely popular, drawing three displayed artists to various receptions held at the Center and inviting hundreds of visitors, free of charge, into the echoes of the past.

Artists:

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