"Scarred, Scared, Sacred" 36x72, Oil on Canvas
"The Civil War is the American Iliad. Lincoln, Stonewall Jackson, Frederick Douglass, Grant and Lee endure as stirring to our national memory as were the legendary Achilles and Hector to the world of the Greeks..." - Opening to Gettysburg, by Newt Gingrich and William R. Forstchen
Can we understand ourselves as Americans without the Civil War? What are we because of the Civil War? And how do we remember it as we change? All these questions (and so many more) stir and churn through the pot of America whether we want them to or not.
As I was painting I used the colors of the war. Blue, Gray and the African American. For me the trees are symbol. They don't depict a certain place or battle. Although a very thoughtful friend asked if this was about the 20th Maine (What a battle! What men!). I chose instead to say something about memory with mist. The age that passes that we can't quite make out because of the passage of time. These fallen are all mixed together. There aren't just Billy Yanks and Johnny Rebs. They are all brothers included in the hallowed ground. For me, the pivotal tree is the black tree. Scarred and sinewed with age. This tree, the largest in the painting, reaches up with an arm to show the way to the open landscape. For what is America without freedom, without the land? And how can we truly remember the Civil war without addressing Slavery?
The battlefields of the Civil War are those rare places within our own soil to wrestle with the questions of who we are. They make sacred the landscape marked by death and brutality. This ferocity dealt on animal, land and man. All were carnage for the machine of war. If we do not have these places of memory, of consecration, we lose the space to sit with those questions adequately. We instead don't remember at all. Something far worse.
Lincoln spoke these words at the Gettysburg Address:
"...The world will little note nor long remember what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here. It is for us the living rather to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced. It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us — that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion — that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain, that this nation under God shall have a new birth of freedom, and that government of the people, by the people, for the people shall not perish from the earth.”