Saturday, April 16, 2011


oil on stretched canvas

The 150th anniversary of the Civil War has begun. A war that took 600,00 American lives, mostof them killed on American soil. Soon famous battle re-enactments will take place on battlefields such Gettysburg and Antietam , where 23,00 men were lost in a single day. Re-enactments, where men will pretend to be killed by fake cannon explosions and Civil War souvenirs will be hawked to the crowds.

Although I live close, it took me many years to finally get to the battlefield. It took only a few somber seconds of overlooking the battlefield to feel the misery suffered there. I have come to feel that the re-enactments and the commercial hoopla every year keep the resentment between many from the north and the south alive. Why should this horrid period in our history be relived year after year? For commercial reasons? For remembering? The Harrisburg Patriot in an editorial, echoing my sentiments on this very thing, asked," do we make sure that we're not just watching a period costume drama, but instead remembering blood spilled and spilled and spilled again. How do we make sure that all the anniversary events over the next four years are not just about nostalgia, but about war?"

This was my first trip to the battlefield and will be my last. I will honor the lives lost by not visiting the monuments of past generals or reading plagues, describing who died where, by not marvelling at the re-enactments of men dying on the batllefield. I have only to read the daily newspaper or to watch a newscast to be reminded of people's pain and sacrifices in the here and now.

A fellow artist, Ron Donooughe, when he saw my painting and read my sentiments on the DPP blog said; "That's an interesting comment about not wanting to paint there. But something about this painting speaks to me. I wonder if that tree placed right in the middle is symbolic of the civil war. It is almost a mirror image, divided down the center. Maybe it's because I just visited the battlefield last summer for the first time and I was shocked by the effect. It appears you had a positively moving experience that is reflected in this painting. To me you captured how it felt. That is what makes this painting special."

I mulled over his words for a couple weeks and decided his observation expressed my feelings and was inspired to retitle this work.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011


oil on stretched canvas


I paid my first visit to the battlefield at Gettysburg this past Thursday. I had passed by it many times on my way to visit my cousin who lived nearby. I went there to paint with my fellow plein air painters, but I did not get much work done. Armed with my camera, I was just like the many tourists there that morning, snapping one photo after the other.

It was a cloudy, chilly morning, which lent itself well to the somber setting. Many have told me what a beautiful , serene landscape it is--how spiritual and peaceful it is, worthy of great reverence. I felt all of these things and yet I also felt profound sadness. The Civil War has always been, to me, the saddest of wars. Six hundred thousand Americans dead in battle, from poorly treated wounds or from disease. Americans fighting Americans and still the Civil War continues in today's politics and in the reenactments of the violence of the North against the South.

I finally settled on the Copse of Trees to paint, learning about its significance later. They are aged, but still standing, protected and revered as living witnesses of the violence that took place there. My depiction of the trees was determined upon learning of the fierce and bloody hand to hand combat that took place around them in July, 1863. Also my son, who was watching me begin the painting, commented that he had read of the great amount blood spilled there . My canvas had a red underpainting, which had bled through. I then decided not to surround the old trees in a peaceful , quiet setting but, to show them as writhing, twisting and agitated and to depict the violence by using more red in the sky and ground. I felt this rendering more closely expressed my feelings about the Civil War and all wars.