"The Union" 8x10, Oil on Gessobord
One of the greatest questions that continues to be debated even today is: Why did we fight each other in the Civil War? Answers are as layered as the fighting is bloody. Many agree that the main issue was slavery and the election of Abraham Lincoln. But for the average Northerner, argues Gary Gallagher (Distinguished Prof. of History at University of Virginia), they saw Union as the main reason for fighting the war. To preserve the nation as one and intact was of most importance. It was, in Northern eyes, what the forefathers fought and died for. And remember that most Northerners had the same prejudice about African Americans as the slave holding south. In fact, in 1863 (when Emancipation became real on January 1st) most Northerners saw it as a means to "ground down" the South instead of as a way to help the African American. Although, we would love to have some of the modern sentiment about slavery that we hold today we have also lost something precious that those who lived during the war years knew all too well. The preservation of something greater than themselves: (the very lives of their sons, fathers, brothers) this Republic. As Daniel Webster, said on the Senate floor in March 1850,: “Liberty and Union, now and forever, one and inseparable.” Remember that Lincoln's party was called the Union party (2nd time running for election). Also, he did everything in his power to preserve the Union. US Grant was laid to rest in one of the most expensive tombs ever created (his funeral procession was the largest every recorded: 1 million people lined the streets of New York) Why? Because he was the man who saved the Union.
You may go HERE to read the full review of Gallagher's book.
I chose to paint the Union as a grouping of trees. It is meant to be ominous as the fighting was terrible, fierce and deeply personal. I used a slight coloring toward cool to show the North and it's "terrible swift sword."
"The South" 8x10, Oil on Gessobord
I think it is easier, in some sense, to answer the Southern reasons for fighting the war. They were also believers in the founding fathers (A favorite hero of Southern men was Washington himself). Southerners believed that they had the right to govern themselves in the way they saw fit (as the constitution had allowed them. The Founding Fathers were slaver holders). So, for many Southerners they didn't see succeeding as an act of treason but as an extension of being American. And in some sense, a more TRUE American.
It is hard to argue that the Southerners only fought for "states rights" when those rights are rooted in slavery. Even the poorest Southern farmer would "rent" a slave for work during harder seasons from larger slave holders. They never thought of the African American as equal to them in any way and could not fathom a world where that could be law. "By the start of the war, the South was producing 75 percent of the world’s cotton and creating more millionaires per capita in the Mississippi River valley than anywhere in the nation," writes A&E Publishers.
One of the other reasons for fighting had to do with loyalty. Once Lincoln ordered 75,000 troops after the firing on Ft. Sumter in 1861 Robert E. Lee resigned his commission to the US Military. His main reason was that he could not take up arms against his own state of Virginia.
I chose to represent the South through it's landscape as most of the bloodiest battles were fought in Virginia and Tennessee. I also chose to show it in red as it gives the idea of a fire). It is a parched earth, pummeled by war and death.
For more on this please go HERE.
"Distress" 8x10, Oil on Gessobord
From: Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, an American Slave.In it, he wrote: “From my earliest recollection, I date the entertainment of a deep conviction that slavery would not always be able to hold me within its foul embrace; and in the darkest hours of my career in slavery, this living word of faith and spirit of hope departed not from me, but remained like ministering angels to cheer me through the gloom.”
It's hard to realize how recent slavery actually is in our country. In fact it started with the very first colonies to the Americas. One of the myths that we hear in our modern era is: "Slavery was a long time ago." when in fact, writes Daina Ramey Berry (Associate Professor of history and African and African diaspora studies at University of Texas at Austin. ) "African-Americans have been free in this country for less time than they were enslaved. Do the math: Blacks have been free for 152 years, which means that most Americans are only two to three generations away from slavery. This is not that long ago."
I chose to put this entire painting in shadow as we tend to not see things very clearly there. A good friend of mine pointed that out recently and I tried to share it visually. I depicted slavery as a mountain in mist and shadow. It is very dark and lonely in this space and yet there is this light of courage. I chose to use the light for the Abolitionists like Harriet Beecher Stowe, William Lloyd Garrison and Frederick Douglass himself. These voices that spoke clearly, sharply through the darkness and helped us see by their truthful light.
You can read more about Frederick Douglass HERE