Akron Beacon Journal, June 12, 2004

Minor Civil War subjects drawn to life

Colored pencil renderings by North Canton artist exhibit diligent research

By Dorothy Shinn, Beacon Journal art and architecture critic

If you see some folks in period costume and military uniforms circa 1860 on Saturday milling around the entrance to the Little Art Gallery of the North Canton Public Library, be advised: it's not Sherman's march in reverse.

It's Civil War re-enactors in costume at the opening reception of Beyond the Battlefield, an exhibit of historically accurate colored pencil drawings of people and events from the Civil War era by North Canton artist Amy Lindenberger.

Inside, Lindenberger's large-scale drawings have been interspersed with Civil War relics, courtesy of the Massillon American Legion Post 221 and the William McKinley Presidential Library and Museum.

Lindenberger, a graduate of the University of Akron, has a lifetime interest in the Civil War (or as some Southerners would have it, the War of Northern Aggression).

Her father was widely read in the subject and she spent many summers with him traveling from one battle site to the next.

Lindenberger is so attached to Civil War subjects, she recently opened a gallery in Gettysburg, Pa., as a summertime weekend venue for displaying her work.

Lindenberger's work is illustrative and factual. She diligently researches her subjects and brings those insights and details into her drawings.

Most of these studies are about noncontroversial subjects, such as the research that revealed that Union soldiers on their way to fight the second battle of Manassas (or if you're a Yankee, Second Bull Run) were somewhat lackadaisical in their soldierly deportment and discipline -- so much so that they stopped to pick blackberries and fetch cool drinks of water whenever they felt like it.

Other research revealed that within regiments originating from the same locale, lower- ranking officers were often chosen by acclaim or popular vote. The same held true for the regimental chaplain, if no actual cleric was available.

But in the case of her research for the image titled Hard Road to Travel, she has lit upon a raging controversy within the folk art community, which is the assertion, famously put forward in the book Hidden in Plain View, that encoded messages could be found within slave-made quilt patterns that helped fugitive slaves in their quest for freedom via the Underground Railroad.

William Arnett is founder of Tinwood Alliance, a nonprofit foundation for the support of African-American vernacular art, and owner of the the majority of quilts shown in the current Cleveland Museum of Art exhibit The Quilts of Gee's Bend. Arnett is vehemently opposed to the encoded message theory.

``It should be debunked because it's totally off,'' Arnett said while visiting Cleveland a few weeks ago.

``Now, the premise behind it is altogether accurate, in that within the broad traditions of the African-American South there are secret languages and codes, but that doesn't mean that this specific example (encoded quilts) is true,'' he said. ``It's just one of those unfortunate things that comes along and happens to fire the popular imagination.''

Sensing that this might be a difficult premise to support, Lindenberger in her accompanying text backs off somewhat from the Hidden in Plain View position. Instead, she posits her illustration as a metaphor for the quest for equality.

``This slave woman is one who's shown frequently in photographs of the slaves on the Sea Islands who were abandoned by their owners when they heard Union forces were on the way,'' Lindenberger said.

Other images are created from historical figures, albeit ones not normally made prominent in accounts of the Civil War.

Mary Boykin Chesnut is one such figure, a Southern diarist who began keeping a journal to record the events as they unfolded, beginning with the attack on Fort Sumter.

``I drew Mary Chesnut using three daguerreotypes and one painted portrait as sources,'' Lindenberger said. ``The best photograph of her was when she was 17 years old. The painted portrait, I believe, was a definite attempt at flattery.

``So I worked from the whole group and physical descriptions of famous people who wrote about her to capture what I believe she looked like.''

Lindenberger's drawings are sometimes derived from these compilations of archived photographs, drawings and/or paintings. But if she's not working on historical figures, she often uses models.

``They are re-enactors that I know, who pose for me individually or two of them at a time, then I recompose them later as a group.''

Sometimes this works well for her, as in Road to Manassas II [Road to Bull Run], a composition showing Union soldiers standing around talking and eating blackberries. At other times, however, her models seem a bit modern to have been living in the mid-19th century.

For instance, in Conflict of Interest, Best Friends and No Idle Hands, the figures seem to be straight out of contemporary magazines -- sleek and glossy, with pert noses, full lips and excellent bone structure. They bear scant resemblance to the small-boned, poorly nourished descendants of the mostly Celtic races who made up the white South of that era.

These severe-visaged creatures, often prematurely toothless, aged and emaciated, were captured for posterity by some of the Civil War's best photographers, but they were not the figures that Lindenberger wanted to depict.

``As a child, it always seemed like the Civil War was so distant from us, so when I began this series, I wanted to see how they were different from us, as well as how we were alike,'' Lindenberger said.

``One reason I decided to use contemporary models was because it's easy sometimes for people to read about the Civil War and see these images of people who have a little bit different appearance than we do, and they don't relate to them personally....

``Our technologies are different, but their experiences and their reactions to war were the same that we have today, and I wanted to make sure people felt that connection.''

Rose O'Neal Greenhow: Red-Hot Fires of Patriotism is another historical figure, one of the Civil War's most effective spies.

Greenhow, a wealthy, attractive and popular widow, had strong Southern sympathies. Living across Lafayette Park from the White House in Washington, D.C., she was able and willing to obtain information valuable to her beloved Confederate cause.

Through the help of her network, ranging from ordinary household servants (whom she called her ``little birds'') to prominent professionals and government officials, Greenhow was able, for instance, to provide Gen. P.G.T. Beauregard with the timetable for the Union advance on Manassas and is often credited with helping the Confederates win this first major battle.

Many of these elements of history are incorporated into Lindenberger's portrait of Greenhow.

What's not shown is Greenhow's sad end. Off the coast of Wilmington, N.C., while trying to evade a Union blockade, the rowboat she had commandeered capsized. She drowned, weighted down by her heavy garments and the thousands of dollars in gold for the Confederacy she had secreted among them.

Lindenberger's images work best when she is working from models and on site. In some instances, she has created scenes in which the figures are imagined, not taken from life, and these seem awkward, not fully realized or resolved.

Also, her drawings, which she refers to as paintings, are created using mainly local color, meaning the greens are the generalized greens that you remember from your own yard, not created from an Impressionist palette of broken color or a Modernistic palette of hues based on emotion, theory or dogma.

In Road to Manassas: Hopes Burn Bright, a group of soldiers sitting around a campfire is only slightly affected by the reflected hues of the flickering fire.

The scene, instead of being saturated with color, is actually bled of it, the uniforms fading into a gray-blue that could be either the North or South. The heat of the flames is represented by a generic portrayal of the fire itself, and its reflection is depicted by scattered pale yellow-orange tones sketched onto the surfaces facing the flames.

``The lighting in that scene was taken from one source and the faces were taken from a variety of sources. The composition is mine,'' she said.

What's consistent in Lindenberger's work is its firm basis in fact.

Some of her sources are the large Civil War histories by authors such as James M. McPherson, Shelby Foote and Geoffrey C. Ward. But she has also drawn material from such books as Best Little Stories from the Civil War by C. Brian Kelly; Voices of the Civil War, a Time-Life series containing firsthand accounts from diaries and letters of Civil War soldiers and civilians; and a number of books about the women of the era.

A founding member of the Ohio Chapter 101 of the Colored Pencil Society of America in 1990, Lindenberger opened The Linden Tree Fine Art Studio in North Canton in 1985. There, she offers adult drawing classes, private drawing lessons for children and special focus workshops in drawing and colored pencil techniques.

She has had her work published in four internationally distributed books on colored pencil drawing. She has also had one of her drawings used as a cover for a Civil War novel, Fathers, Sons and Brothers by Gus Filegar.

Her current work, she says, is her effort to show the other side of the Civil War -- not the grandiose battle scenes or the well-known generals or heroes of the battlefields.

Instead, she attempts to show the quieter, smaller moments, those more familiar to the rest of us.

Beyond the Battlefield is also available in a series of limited-edition prints.

Dorothy Shinn writes about art and architecture for the Akron Beacon Journal. Send information to her at the Akron Beacon Journal, P.O. Box 640, Akron, OH 44309-0640 or dtgshinn@CivilWarFineArt@yahoo.com



Show: Beyond the Battlefield.

When: Opens with a 6 to 8 p.m. reception Saturday. Through Aug. 14.

Hours: 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. Mondays through Thursdays; 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. Fridays; 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturdays. Closed Sundays. Admission is free.

Where: Little Art Gallery of the North Canton Public Library, 185 N. Main St., North Canton.

Information: 330-499-4712, Ext. 12.

Note: Online news report included Hard Road; Printed edition included images of Hard Road and Rose O'Neal Greenhow.

Direct Links to All Civil War Artwork:
Beyond the Battlefield - The Battle of Gettysburg - More Civil War Drawings - Gettysburg Civilians During the War
Christmas During the Civil War -
Gettysburg Today - Plein Air Drawings of Gettysburg

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