Gettysburg College’s Schmucker Art Gallery recently presented a student curated exhibition entitled “Visualizing War” that consisted of materials found within Special Collections of Musselman Library. The allotted space for the exhibit featured twelve pieces all pertaining to the Civil War. The curators, Natalie Sherif, Alexandra Ward, and Andrew Egbert, desired to capture the sentiments of those living in the North one-hundred and fifty years ago through the art pieces chosen. Although the display was small, it exuded remembrance and accomplished the curators’ specific purpose.
Sherif, Ward, and Egbert did an excellent job collaborating their selected parts into a whole, meaningful exhibit. The use of a variety of carefully researched sources to examine Northern perceptions of the American Civil War and the evolution of its political, social, and militaristic visual representations was impressive. Special Collections at Musselman Library houses all of the displayed images and head archivist Carolyn Sautter aided in pulling the exhibit together. Being limited to the objects hindered the total effect that could have been posed in the exhibit through the use of additional outside images yet the pieces chosen still proved to achieve the goal. Special Collections has a vast collection of Civil War artifacts and memorabilia, therefore, more pieces could have been involved in the exhibit to enhance the presentation. Nonetheless the twelve chosen portrayed a crucial part of the American Civil War.
The title of the exhibition, Visualizing War, seemed to be misleading. Entering the exhibit, unknowing of the purpose, I expected to see various photographs of several wars. The title was appropriate, but needed to be refined with a description following the name to specify the meaning of the exhibition. The exhibition also could have been more successful if images from both the Northern and Southern perspectives were displayed. More well-rounded pieces would have enhanced the experience for the visitor, because the Civil War was not one sided. A strict division in the exhibition I believe would have been more powerful in visualizing the whole concept of the war. The exhibition also could possibly have been better designed if images from other-American wars were included.
The pieces themselves portrayed varying perspectives on the Civil War. I discovered that I was able to break down the twelve images into three categories: colorization of images, propaganda, and aftermath. Each category exhibited a different perspective of the war. The colors used in three of the pictures on display developed their own message regardless of the exact drawing. The use of color seems to be fairly important in the romanticized view of war and death. The 1863 map also used vibrant colors and connected to the notion of the North being the correct side. Five of the pieces entered into the exhibition were political propaganda pieces of the Civil War era that showed the negative view of the Confederacy. The last four pieces depicted heroic battle scenes and the brutal difficulties that were associated with the War Between the States. All of the images combined created a powerful visual exhibit that deserves notable recognition for a successful commemoration of the sesquicentennial.
Images from Special Collections, Musselman Library, Gettysburg College.