Gettysburg's 'History Meets the Arts' exhibit goes back in time
You don't have to be a Civil War buff to recognize that this year marks the 150th anniversary of the Battle of Gettysburg. And next weekend is a perfect time to visit the historic town to celebrate that anniversary.
Beginning June 13, thousands will converge on this iconic Civil War-era town for “History Meets the Arts,” which, for the fourth year in a row, is coinciding with the Gettysburg Festival (June 8 to 16, www.gettysburgfestival.org), a nine-day cultural-arts festival offering music, theater, dance, visual arts, children's and culinary events.
Now in its 16th year, “History Meets the Arts” has grown to become the largest gathering of historical artists in the country. And for fans of their art, one of the most important events of the year.
“Over 25 nationally recognized artists will be showing their works,” says Philippe du Bois, director of Lord Nelson's Gallery, a Gettysburg gallery specializing in historical art. “All of them will have new works specifically created for this show. There will be new paintings that will have never been seen before.”
Du Bois says that in addition to a plethora of paintings on display, there will be bronze sculptures, artist-signed prints and contemporary 18th-century period accoutrements, such as powder horns, porcupine quill-work, tomahawks, hunting knives and bags.
But that's not all. As in previous years, several other venues and galleries in town also will join in with related exhibits.
• Adams County Arts Council, 125 S. Washington St. Featured will be the work of Gettysburg artist Wendy Allen who has been painting images of Abraham Lincoln for close to 30 years and has completed nearly 200 paintings of the president.
• Gettysburg Frame Shop, 17 Chambersburg St. Western artists Brad Schmehl and Larry Selmen will display paintings and prints of Civil War battle scenes, cowboys and images of the Old West.
• King James Galleries, 15 Baltimore St., will host American artist John Paul Strain who specializes in painting the early days of the American frontier and the American Civil War. On Saturday, Strain will offer customers of his canvas giclee prints the opportunity to have their purchase enhanced with oil paint.
Lord Nelson's Gallery is widely recognized as one of the leading dealers of original paintings and limited-edition prints of Western, 18th-century frontier and American Indian art. The gallery founded and first hosted the “History Meets the Arts” event in 1998, and the event has grown so large since then that part of it is now housed in the Gettysburg Fire Community Center at 35 N. Stratton St.
A few Pittsburgh-area artists will be represented in the exhibit there, such as painters Robert Newell of Wilkinsburg, who is chief of graphics for the Tribune-Review and is a first-time exhibitor at the event, and historical painters Robert Griffing of Gibsonia and John Buxton of Allison Park.
Buxton has been displaying his art at the event every year since its inception. He will be bringing several original oils, including a small painting titled “Ready to Go” of an American Indian with his birchbark canoe; a larger work titled “Eye on the Horizon,” of the Delaware Indian Chingas; “The Spellbinder, of a gathering of colonials enjoying the impressive melodies from a harp player; and “High Vista,” a painting of a frontier couple high atop a ridge gazing off into the unknown that awaits.
For Buxton, the event is more about the camaraderie among his fellow artists than anything else. “Heck, if we didn't sell a single painting, it would be hard to keep us away,” he says. “All of the family of Lord Nelson's is just that — like close family to us, and we always have a truly great time.”
Like Buxton, David Wright of Gallatin, Tenn., looks forward to the event for the social gathering among his fellow artists. “Several (of the artists) have been in the show since conception, so getting together with them every year is sort like a homecoming,” says Wright, who has been participating every year since 1998.
“Seeing friends and viewing their creations is always uplifting,” he says. “The same applies to seeing the customers who come back every year, too.”
One of Wright's recently completed works on display will be “A Man of the Mountains.”
“I paint frontier subjects from the Eastern frontier period and the Western fur trade — both white people and Indians,” Wright says. “This painting is of a Rocky Mountain fur trapper — ‘mountain man' as they were called.”
Not just historical scenes and figures of the American frontier, but landscape paintings also will be on display.
Landscape painter Jason Tako of Dover, York County, who is participating in the event for the fifth year, will have several recently completed landscapes on display.
Though he specializes in painting landscapes, Tako says, “I'm a bit of a hopeless romantic when it comes to the early life of our country. The rugged beauty of the colonial and pioneer time periods stirs something within me that I want to experience and preserve. With all the re-enactors, artwork, historic replicas and books on the subject, ‘History Meets the Arts' can be like stepping back into this era.”
Tako's painting “Tree Shadows” represents the artist's longing to preserve the rugged nostalgic beauty he finds fascinating.
“This barn is still standing, not far from my father-in-law's farm,” he says in regard to the painting. “During the summer, you can barely see it due to the heavy foliage. In late autumn, it comes alive in the morning light.”
The weathered textures of the barn create a beautiful harmony with the trees and shadows cast across the field and barn.
“Every time we drove by this barn, I kept telling myself I had to paint it,” Tako says. “I finally created a small plein-air field study to capture the correct colors and values; a camera was used for details. The property has been up for sale for years, and I know it is only a matter of time before it loses all pragmatic value and is torn down.”
Tako says that, while he understands the pragmatism, “I think we lose a connection with our past. And I'm sure the building that will be constructed in its place will not have any of the character or beauty that this structure has. I'm glad I was able to capture this before it's gone.”
Du Bois says that, this year, one returning event at the show will be “Artists Sketching Artists – Live,” which will take place at the fire hall beginning at 3 p.m. June 15.
“I, basically, invite all of the artists to sit down and draw each other, whether it's whimsical or serious, in 30 minutes to an hour,” du Bois says. “Last year, two sculptors sat across from each other and actually sculpted each others likenesses out of clay.
“When everything is done, they give their works to each other as a gift,” du Bois says. “Everybody had a good time with it. The work is not going to be sold, so it's more of a fun thing for the artists.”
Kurt Shaw is the art critic for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at email@example.com.