Circuit of the Summer Hills: Mourning the Losses of the Civil War Exhibition

Circuit of the Summer Hills: Mourning the Losses of the Civil War Exhibition

Hagerstown, MD: The Washington County Museum of Fine Arts (WCMFA), located in historic City Park, in Hagerstown, MD, will present an interpretive exhibition featuring landscapes, portraits, sculpture, prints, and archival material, focusing on the Civil War Sesquicentennial. The exhibition, entitled "Circuit of the Summer Hills": Mourning the Losses of the Civil War, January 16-September 19, 2010, presented in commemoration of the 150th anniversary of the American Civil War. The exhibition is co-curated by Dr. Elizabeth Johns, PhD, professor emerita in Art History, University of Pennsylvania, and the museum's Assistant Curator, Jennifer Chapman Smith.
The losses of the war were many: to Americans - sense of the meaning of their nation, to individuals who lost sons, husbands, fathers, and friends to battle and disease, to farmers and business owners who lost their livelihood; to artists who painted, sculpted, or wrote about the post-war years. The popular phrase "circuit of the summer hills" is from a sentimental poem of the 1820s by William Cullen Bryant who as a young man was hoping that eventually friends would mourn him in his grass-covered grave. Decades later, in his newspaper column "A Bivouac of the Dead," former Union soldier Ambrose Bierce used the phrase in anger to mourn the young Confederates who lost their lives in battlefields of West Virginia and lay in unmarked graves visited by no one. During the years in between, trying to absorb the war's impact, some artists reconstructed traumatic events; others painted the beloved valleys and mountains that, unlike farms and businesses and towns, had endured the conflict and could foster new life. Landscapists departed from the optimistic exactitude of pre-war pictures, however, and used brushwork that suggested a nature shaped by regret and memory. Sunsets mourned the loss of earlier hope. Prints and poems expressed the nation's continuing sadness.
As the exhibition will show, during the years in between, trying to absorb the war's impact, some artists reconstructed traumatic events, as did Daniel Ridgeway Knight, in The Burning of Chambersburg; others, like John Ross Key, in Cumberland Mountains, painted the beloved valleys and mountains that, unlike farms and businesses and towns, had endured the conflict and could foster new life. Other landscapists, including John Francis Murphy and William Sonntag, departed from the optimistic exactitude of pre-war pictures and used brushwork that suggested a nature shaped by regret and memory.
Sunsets, such as that by Jasper Francis Cropsey, mourned the loss of earlier hope. Portraitists caught the likenesses of those crucial to the war, including Hagerstown banker James Dixon Roman, who arranged Hagerstown's ransoming from the Confederates. Gutson Borglum sculpted the bust of Abraham Lincoln in tribute to the nation's fallen leader, and printmakers and poets expressed the nation's continuing sadness. Citizens at home embroidered mourning pictures and made wreaths of their loved one's hair.
Landscapes to be included from the Art Museum's collection are important examples of Civil War period images, for example, Jasper Francis Cropsey's, Autumn Landscape with View of River, 1870, oil on canvas, 17.5 x 36", John Kensett_s (American, 1816-1872), Mountain Pool, 1863, oil, 30 x 22", and Thomas Griffin (American, 1858-1918), Summer Landscape at Sunset, oil on canvas, 18 x 30". Portraits from the Museum's collection include the anonymous paintings, Portrait of a Union Soldier, c. 1865, oil on canvas, 29" x 36", Portrait of James Dixon Roman, oil on canvas, 46" x 39", and Portrait of Junius Brutus Booth, oil on canvas, 31" x 36". Narrative Paintings and Prints which contribute to the story of mourning are Harper_s Weekly wood engravings about the aftermath of the war, including August 26, 1865, p. 532: "Out Watering Places--the Empty Sleeve at Newport" and June 13, 1863, p. 381 "Home from the War" (Private Collections), as well as "The Lost Cause"--Currier and Ives and "The Death of President Lincoln," (Private Collections). Willhelm Schimmell's, Eagle, wood (WCMFA), is a patriotic emblem, while the Locks of Hair, Hair art and mourning jewelry, including rings (Private Collections), and Mourning Embroidery, (Private Collections) all speak to the pervasive atmosphere of loss. Primary documents that tie together the paintings and the historic events include a typescript of General McCausland's order for Hagerstown's ransom, July 6, 1864 (Western Maryland Room, Washington County Free Library), and the Herald-Mail's issue of July 9, 1989 about the burning of Chambersburg, with photos and maps (Western Maryland Room, Washington County Free Library), as well as the Herald and Torch Light's broadsheet extra about the assassination of President Lincoln. (Western Maryland Room, Washington County Free Library).
The exhibition is sponsored in part by Rest Haven Cemetery and Funeral Home. In conjunction with the exhibition, the Museum will present a free lecture and an historic interpretation. On January 17, 2010, at 2:30pm in the Museum's Bowman Memorial Gallery, Hagerstown native, John M. McCardell, Jr., who is President Emeritus and College Professor, Middlebury College, Vermont, will present an illustrated lecture, "The Civil War and Historical Memory-or Memories." In conjunction with the exhibitions, "The Unwritten War" (on view through March 21, 2010) and "Circuit of the Summer Hills: Mourning the Losses of the Civil War" Dr. McCardell will discuss how historical memory - individual and collective - will shape the approaching sesquicentennial commemoration of the Civil War. Growing up in Frederick and Hagerstown, Maryland, Dr. McCardell was deeply influenced by the devastation endured by this region, both as a borderland and as a war zone. He chose to research the Civil War as his life's work, following the path of historical scholarship from his dissertation research through the publication of his book, The Idea of a Southern Nation, to his current work as a college professor, and board member of the American Civil War Center at Historic Tredegar in Richmond, Virginia, and other Civil War organizations. The lecture is sponsored in part by Mrs. Theron K. Rinehart.
On February 14, 2010 at 2:30pm, Bill Grimmette will present "Frederick Douglass: A Living History" through the sponsorship of the Maryland Humanities Council. One of the leaders of America's abolitionist movement, Frederick Douglass was born into slavery in Talbot County, Maryland in 1817.
In this living history presentation, interpreter, storyteller and actor Bill Grimmette will recount Douglass' life including his influence on such national figures as Abraham Lincoln.
Dedicated to collecting, preserving and interpreting works of art for the people of Washington County and citizens from the quad-state (MD, PA, VA, WV) region, for over seventy-eight years, the Washington County Museum of Fine Arts has been recognized as one of the finest small museums in the United States. Admission to the museum is free. It is accredited by the American Association of Museums and its collection includes over 7,000 works of art. This "crown jewel of Washington County" has an enduring commitment to arts education and to the support of regional artists. The Museum offers studio art courses, lectures, concerts, and exhibitions from its permanent collection and traveling shows. The Washington County Museum of Fine Arts is funded through support from museum membership and annual fund donations by the public, fundraising events, grants from the business and corporate communities, and support from Washington County, the City of Hagerstown, and the Maryland State Arts Council, an agency dedicated to cultivating a vibrant cultural community where the arts thrive. For more information on the Museum, please telephone 301-739-5727 or visit www.wcmfa.org. Museum hours are Tuesday through Friday from 9am to 5pm, Saturday from 9am to 4pm, and Sunday from 1pm to 5pm.