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In the book, Causes Won, Lost, and Forgotten, How Hollywood & Popular Art Shape What we Know about the Civil War, Gary Gallagher devotes chapter 4 to the fine arts and the power of the image.[1]  Civil War artists captured the battles and their heroes in the style of realism to aid in remembering the Lost Cause.  Since ancient times, the skills of the artist have captured epic moments of the past on a grand scale. Art documents the events worth remembering or sometimes forgetting in history.

During the nineteenth century, the cyclorama became a popular media to record grand events, especially battles.  The Battle of Gettysburg painted by the French Artist Paul Philippotcaux became a famous featured cyclorama of the late 1800’s.[2]  Philippoteaux made several sketches from the photographs he took of the battles. Over fifty Civil War battles were captured in the cyclorama, Paul created four original Gettysburg cycloramas, and only one survives intact at the Gettysburg Museum.  Recently restored by European artists at the cost of $13 million dollars, the Gettysburg Foundation and Gettysburg National Military Park officials made plans to create a permanent edifice to house the epic chronicle of the historical battle.[3]Understanding the importance and value of an original piece is part of the aesthetic experience. Paintings actually created during the specific time period provide valuable resources to the past. However, Gallagher gives examples of contemporary artists like Mort Kunstler who continues to capture the same battles, the same people, the same style, it’s all very redundant, and very commercial to be sure. Gallagher notes that “Original Lost Cause art interpreted African Americans as carrying out their quotidian labors without challenging the Confederacy’s slave based social structure.”[4]

Maybe the time has come to look at a new cause from a new perspective from the other side of the fence.

Cyclorama Paper Silhouette, created by Kara Walker, Sao Paulo, Brazil

Compare the art of contemporary African American female artist Kara Walker who also creates large room installations but with a different twist of memory. Born in 1969 and considered one of the most talented, and controversial artist of her generation. Her first art installation in New York was titled: Gone, A Historical Romance of Civil War as it Occurred Between the Dusky Thighs of one Young Negress and her Heart.[5]  Her work is black and white; no middle ground. She uses the Victorian style of the cut out silhouette. Through these forms, she reveals her story of the American South before the Civil War. The form distinguishes the status of the character. Her compositions play off the stereotypes and life on the plantation “where masters and mistresses and slave men, women, and children enact a subverted version of the past in an attempt to reconfigure their status and representation.” Her installations forcefully pluralize our notion of a singular “history’, with “back stories and revisions that slash and burn through the pieties of patriotism and the glosses of color blindness.”[7]

In 1997,  Kara Walker created a commissioned 85-foot-long cyclorama work for the Walker’s Group Exhibition, the monumental Slavery! Slavery! Presenting a GRAND and LIFELIKE Panoramic Journey into Picturesque Southern Slavery or “Life at ‘Ol’ Virginny’s Hole’ (sketches from Plantation Life). Her work remembers a different color of the past that can be difficult to look at directly.  She questions, “How do you make representation of your world given what you’ve been given?” [8].  

Click on her name to watch this clip for further insight into her work.

Kara Walker 

 


[1] Gary W. Gallagher, Lost, and Forgotten, How Hollywood & Popular art shape What we Know about the Civil War (Chapel Hill:The University of North Carolina, 2008) 161-179.

[2] Diana Loski, “The Cyclorama: Art for the Masses.” The Gettysburg Expression, November, 2011,1, Accessed July 3, 2012, http://www.thegettysburgexperience.net/past_issue_headlines/2011/august2011/cyclorama.html

[3] Loski, 1

[4] Gallagher, 181

[5] Ian Berry; Darby English; Patterson; MarkReinhardt; Vivian “Beyond the Controversy Kara Walker: Narratives of a Negress” Kara Walker Review Johanna Branson The Women’s Review of Books, Vol. 21, No. 4 (Jan., 2004), Published by: Old City Publishing, Inc.1URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/4024363 Accessed: 02/07/2012 01:16

[6] Barbara Kruger, “Arts & Entertainers, Kara Walker,” Time Specials:The Time 100, May 03, 2007.21,accrssed July 3, 2012 http://www.time.com/time/specials/2007/time100/article/0,28804,1595326_1595332_1616818,00.html #ixzz1zbeTPV75

[7] Kruger, 21.

[8] Kara Walker, “The Art of Kara Walker :A Companion to the Exhibition — My Complement, My Enemy, My Oppressor, My Love”,WalkerArtCenter, accessed July3, 2012, http://learn.walkerart.org/karawalker

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While the news of the devastating Waldo Canyon Fire in Colorado Springs, Colorado continues, the evacuation of over 32, 0000 people flee with their pets, into the five Red Cross shelters provided by nearly 300 trained Red Cross disaster workers.  As the tragedy unfolds, the firefighters who persist to fight the fire along the frontlines stated, “it’s like fighting a war.” [1] The devastation of the environment, landmarks and homes indeed resemble the ravaged battlefields of war. Times of devastation give the power to define a community as many brave people band together to help their neighbor through the hopelessness of the situation. One might contemplate that humanitarian efforts take root when disaster strikes or in the throes of war. During the Civil War, the humanitarian efforts of civilians helped to identify the nameless soldiers who fought for the cause. While the cause became lost to some, to others it lives on.  To the women of the UDC the Lost Cause memorialization persisted over the past 150 years.  However, the humanitarian efforts created by one woman developed into a foundation not to lose or forget, the woman Clara Barton the cause the American Red Cross.

Clara Barton

Clara Barton often referred to as the “Angel of the Battlefield” began her story on Christmas Day in 1821. A progressive thinker, Clara Barton started her career as a teacher at a private school at the age of eighteen.  Later she went to Bordentown, and in the face of much opposition founded a free public school, the first in the state of New Jersey. In one year, the school increased from six to six hundred pupils and secured the building of a new schoolhouse costing four thousand dollars. Later, she became the first woman to receive an appointment in the Columbia Historical Society, a government department service.[2] In a period when independent women were not acceptable to most of society, Barton possessed an autonomous character that encompassed tremendous organizational skills and patience. She struggled against “the gender prejudice of much of the military hierarchy in her attempts to care for the wounded and sick of the union army.”[3] Her courage on the battlefield equaled the soldiers’ valor during the four years of the Civil War.  She realized the need of a woman’s help in nursing, feeding, and caring for the sick and wounded. Up to that point, the presence of women in hospitals, camps, or on battlefields did not meet the approval of the male authority. Military as well as civil officials, declined her services, however, Barton succeeded in gaining the confidence of the commanding officers, and finally made her way to the battlefront being present on sixteen battlefields, including Cedar Mountain, Fort Wagner, Petersburg, the second Bull Run, the Wilderness, and Antietam, the hospitals in Richmond, and eight months at the siege of Charleston.[4] The wounded and dying soldiers she assisted at the fronts, developed into supplying information to their families. Clara kept notebooks into which she entered information that helped to locate and identify missing soldiers.  In the spring of 1865, she founded the Office of Correspondence where she published the names submitted by those in search of kin. The first woman to operate an official government office, Barton received a $15,000 grant from congress, as well as free printing from the Government Printing office that provided the names of the missing soldiers. In her final report to congress she stated that she personally answered 63,182 letters and claimed 22,000 missing soldiers as identified through her publications.[5]  One month before his death, Abraham Lincoln approved her request to give recognition to the Unknown Soldier and to establish a national cemetery at Andersonville, Georgia, where she collaborated with former Andersonville prisoner Dorence Atwater to identify and mark the graves of 13,000 soldiers buried at the prison.[6] 

Barton’s observation of the effects of war on ordinary citizens, refugees, and soldiers as well as on the countryside and the resources of those who lived there led to her vision of the Red Cross as the rescuer of the people and their land.  Acting on these observations she achieved to establish  the American National Red Cross as the official United States representative to the International Committee of the Red Cross, and supporting the United States as a signer of the Treaty of Geneva.[7] The American Red Cross developed to establish protection and identification to the victims of natural disasters, a cause that continues as part of the Civil War efforts and the determination and efforts of a heroic woman, Clara Barton.


[1] “Evacuees Crowd Shelters,” The Pueblo Chieftain, June 28, 2012.

[2] Corra Bacon-Foster Reviewed work “Clara Barton, Humanitarian,” Records of the Columbia Historical Society,Washington,D.C., Vol. 21 (1918), 283 Published by: Historical Society of Washington, D.C. Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/40067108 .Accessed: 27/06/2012 16:23

[3] Stephen B. Oates Review by: Glenna R. Schroeder-Lein “Woman of Valor: Clara Barton and the Civil War”.  The Journal of American History, Vol. 82, No. 1 (Jun., 1995), 254 Published by: Organization of American Historians Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/2082024 .Accessed: 27/06/2012 16:34

[4] Ishbel Ross, Angel of the Battlefield: The Life of Clara Barton (New York: Harper & Brothers, 1956) 82-90

[5] Gary Scott, “Clara Barton’s: Civil War Apartments” Washington History, Vol. 13, No. 1 (Spring/Summer, 2001),24-31Published by: Historical Society of Washington, D.C.Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/40073485 .Accessed: 27/06/2012 16:28

[6] Drew Gilpin Faust, This Republic of Suffering: Death and the American Civil War (New York: Vintage Civil War Library, 2008) 21.

[7] Charles Hurd, The Compact  History of the American Red Cross (New York: Hawthorn Books Inc., 1959) 50


 

Mammy’s Kitchen (now a shop) near Natchez, Miss., is a monument to a certain kind of bad taste. But it also is one of the country’s great monuments of roadside architecture.

The mammy image represents the old Dixie concept of the devoted slave.  It became the primary symbol of the Lost Cause. The subversive Negro woman portrayed the devotion to the white family as a product of the “Old South” nostalgia.  Depicted as a large, rotund, black woman in petticoats rustling around the plantation, she wears a turban, earrings, and an apron.  The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines her as a black woman serving as a nurse to white children especially formerly in the southern United States, the word “mammy” first used in  1523.

Scattered throughout the South,  many monuments exist dedicated to the “faithful slave” that shifted from slave memory, to the southern way of life, that exhibited the kindly relations between master and slave. The popular Confederate Memorial at Arlington National Cemetery, depicts devoted slave mammies hugging their master in one panel, and their husbands in another, as they march into battle, while a white child clings to mammies’ apron.[1] Does this child symbolize the resistence to let go of her strings?

 In Race and Reunion, David Blight writes about the intentions of the UDC to construct mammy memorials in every state.  Many of the elite women in the organization felt obligated that they “must remember the best friend of their childhood.”[2]  In 1922, the UDC’s proposed to construct a Mammy Monument as a testament to the supposedly happy slave who tended to the white families.  The rhetoric of the UDC being that the statue would honor the stereotyped submissive slave, but also instruct future generations in the values of the Old South.  The monument bill passed the house but never made it out of committee in the Senate.[3]

The mammy of the twentieth century became a profitable image and a propaganda tool.  1923 political cartoons directly addressed mammy proposals using derogatory images to insult the female African American.  In 1927, the first talkie film The Jazz Singer,  featured a black faced  Al Jolson lamenting a tune about his mammy, that brings tears to the eye every time I watch it.  His character is the son of a Jewish Cantor who defies his father in order to become a jazz singer, [4] that might imply a kindred to the Black jazz musicians of the Harlem Renaissance.

Mammy became a marketing icon using the jovial figure to sell products and knickknacks such as saltshakers, cookie jars, and table lamps in the 40’s and 50’s causing the Black Arts movement to protest against the idealized mammy figures.[5]  Her face continues to sell Aunt Jemima pancakes with her image evolving into a slim, updated modern African American logo.  Brown syrup resembling brown skin, fills the bottle of Mrs. Butterworth’s female figure.  A current petition exists to the Quaker Oats Company that begins: “We the undersigned are outraged and offended that your company has insisted on keeping as its trademark a racist, sexist symbol that has been an insulting degrading stereotype directed against black American women for over 100 years.[6]

My mammy memorial symbolizes all womanhood, and the survival instinct of mothers in general.  She is the all-consuming mother who encompasses love and life for the children of the earth. Who’s your mammy?


[1] Thomas J. Brown, The Public Art of Civil War Commeration: A Brief History With Documents.  (Boston:Bedford/St. Martin’s, 2004)  66.

[2]David W. Blight, Race and Reunion (Cambridge:HarvardUniversity Press, 2001) 288.

[3]Micki McElya,  Clinging to Mammy: The Faithful Slave in Twentieth-century America.(Cambridge:

HarvardUniversityPress, 2007) 161.

[4]Internet Movie Database.21 June 20011, http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0018037/

[5] Kimberly Wallace-Sanders, “Southern Memory, Southern Monuments, and the Submissive Black Mammy,” Southern Spaces, 15 June 2009, http://www.southernspaces.org/2009/southern-memory-southern-monuments-and-subversive-black-mammy.

The Image of Power  Doreen Drobnick-Martinez

“Whatever image you create it never conforms to reality”  _ Deepak ChoprA

History throughout the past 2000 years consists of stories passed down from generation to generation that continue to translate mythological proportions of human nature.  The development of the written word as a communicative tool began as pictographs used symbols to create the first known written language of cuneiform that retold the stories of heroes and battles.  These stories reinforced the imaginations and skills of the aesthetic mind that used the tools of the written word as well as visual literacy to invoke images that remain as significant records of the human experience. 

In the book How to Read a Film  James Monaco explains determinants that give shape to the experience evident in the arts that include economics, political, psychological, and technical factors.  The political determinate being primarily the social use of the art that “defines the relationship between the work of art and the society that nurtures it”* while the psychological determinate “focuses our attention not on the relationship between the work and the world, but the connections between the work and the artist and the work and the observer”.  The technical  determinant governs the language, form and structure of the art, while economically art becomes an financial product from the point of view of production as well as consumption.**Considering these factors, the popular art of filmmaking helps to shape our own perceptions of the image, memory, and historical accounts of identity.

In the essay Memory and Identity the History of a Relationship John R. Gillis argues that “the notion of identity depends on the idea of memory”.***He defines commemorative activity as social and political involving the coordination of individual and group memories.****With the help of technological advancements, these memories continue to develop as a cultural identity as well as an economical resource.

As early as 1839, the invention of the photographic image – the daguerreotype allowed thousands of ordinary people to achieve a kind of immortality that surpassed painting and drawing by recording the images of the world directly, using landscapes and portraits that created a mystical experience of reality.***** By 1861, the photograph became a tool to record one of the bloodiest wars in history.  Mathew Brady’s’ images of death contrasted with the idea of the nineteenth –century concept of  the Good Death, and the art of dying that provided rules of conduct for the moribund- dying with kin at the bedside.  One of the most distressing aspects of death for Civil War Americans was seeing the photographic images of thousands of young men dying away from home.******Those realistic images seared through the memories of the war keeping it alive in the American perception of the virtuous gallantry of the civil war soldiers, and the glorification of the battlefronts.

As technology continued to develop, it helped to end the war as well as to remember.  The origins of the cinema lie in the development of mass communication technology.  Thomas Edison invented the motion picture camera –the Kinetoscope in 1893, during the Gilded Age of invention, industrialization, and reconstruction that shaped the Civil War memory.

By 1915, the movie industry advanced as film director D.W. Griffith (“the Father of Cinema) began to use the skills and technologies of the motion picture camera to produce the emergence a believable narration that recorded and actually reproduced the flow of time.  Through innovative devices such as parallel editing, framing and different uses of camera shots, Griffithillustrated the power of the motion picture medium to communicate ideological arguments that held audiences spellbound by the technological “magic”.*******The image in motion pictures became so true to life that audiences ignored the racial content and historical inaccuracies of the film.  This was the first film unveiled at White House during Woodrow Wilson’s reign.  Wilson was so impressed with the film he called it “history writ with lightning.”*********

In the book The Reel Civil War, Bruce Chadwick compares the context and impact of Birth the popular Lost Cause and similar connotations that confronts the audience in the movie Gone With The Wind.*********The ability to freeze time through imagery, metaphor, and symbol creates the invisibility of classicalHollywood cinema that results in a great artifice that influences the memory and identity of the American culture.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


*James Monaco, How to Read a Film (New York:OxfordUniversity Press, 2000)32

**Ibid. 35

***John R. Gillis, Commemorations: The Politics of National Identity.  (New Jersey: Princeton University Press, 1994)3  

****Ibid. 5

*****James Monaco, How to Read a Film (New York:OxfordUniversity Press, 2000)39

******Drew Gilpin Faust,  This Republic of Suffering: Death and the American Civil War, (New York: Vintage Civil War Library, 2008) 9

*******John Belton ,American cinema American Culture: (Boston: McGraw-Hill. 2009)7

********Ibid, 457

*********Bruce Chadwick ,The Reel Civil War: Mythmaking In American Film, (New York: Alfred Knopf, 2001)190