Tucked in a corner of the Marianna Kistler Beach Museum of Art is a collection of Civil War era drawings. When I first arrived and began looking at the sketches lining the walls, I wasn’t extremely interested. The longer I was there, though, the more interesting I realized the collection was.
The exhibit was much more educational than I expected it to be. The drawings weren’t just for aesthetic purposes when they were originally created. These sketches were turned into illustrations for several newspapers during that time period. The plaques explained how artists were sent to the armies’ camps and to the front lines of different battles to record what was going on.
The drawings are extremely simple, as they had to not only be turned into an engraving to be mass printed, but they had to make it back to the newspaper through all kinds of weather and battles without the reliable postal system we have today. Still, the ones that survived all of that created our visual record of this time period.
The exhibit is as simple as the art it is presenting. It took about 30 minutes to go through. I’d recommend anybody looking for something to do between classes to take a quick walk through the exhibit and learn something about the Civil War you may not expect.
The subjects of the drawings are some you’d expect: battle front lines, dramatic cavalry scenes and soldiers marching. There were also some scenes and subjects that I was not expecting to see. Some drawings showed the armies’ camps, covered in snow or just during downtime for the soldiers. One artist’s work really stood out to me, since it was something I had never really thought of in regards to the Civil War.
Edward F. Mullen drew an execution of a deserter. Another drawing, titled “Drumming out a coward officer,” showed a group of soldiers escorting a man with a sign, which said “Coward,” hung around him. The drawings really showed the attitude of the soldiers during this time in regarding loyalty.
My favorite part of the exhibit was the more interactive portion. Two iPads with connected headphones sat in separate booths. The screens were opened to an interactive slideshow of many of the drawings already shown across the walls of the exhibit but included audio recordings of letters from Civil War soldiers. It was really incredible hearing the soldiers’ thoughts during the scenes depicted in the drawings and showed how real people actually lived in those images.
Walking out of the exhibit, I felt I had really learned something. It wasn’t like more modern exhibits where you see abstract blobs painted on canvases and leave wondering what on earth you were just looking at. These drawings were simple and told an easy-to-understand narrative on the Civil War.
The Civil War Era Drawings from the Becker Collection exhibit is free and open until Dec. 18 in the Mary and Morgan Jarvis Wing of the Beach Museum of Art.