AfriGeneas Military Research Forum Archive
"Army Life in A Black Regiment" by T. W. Higginson
Thought this Exhibit might interest the Forum:
For immediate release: 07/23/2003
Contact: Audrey Davis at 703/838-4356
Virginia Museum of Fine Arts Exhibition
ALEXANDRIA, VA – An unpublished portfolio of illustrations for Army Life in a Black Regiment will be on display at the Alexandria Black History Resource Center from September 1 to November 1, 2003.
In 1969, a year made famous by a moon landing, a rock concert in Woodstock, N.Y., the inauguration of Richard Nixon, and the first withdrawal of U.S. troops from Vietnam, an African American artist, Avel de Knight, found a book that captured his imagination. Written in 1870 by New England abolitionist Thomas W. Higginson, Army Life in a Black Regiment was a moving account of his seventeen-month experience as the white leader of the Union’s first regiment of emancipated slaves during the Civil War. Between 1969 and 1974, de Knight produced twenty-two pen, ink, and ink-wash drawings based on this book.
At a time when many African American artists created sensational canvases and sculptures demanding true civil rights in America and celebrating African roots, Avel de Knight spoke with a quieter voice, using subtle almost romantic imagery to convey the power, authority, and professionalism of a group of black Civil War soldiers. With simple line and form, he conveyed the essence of Higginson’s book, so clearly expressed in its closing words: Till the blacks were armed, there was no guaranty of their freedom. It was their demeanor under arms that shamed the nation into recognizing them as men.
Curator Eileen Mott says that “while de Knight acknowledged the art of his contemporaries in his abstract shapes, his calligraphic lines, and use of white space, what emerged from his pen and brush was a unique pictorial style. In almost seamless spaces, he placed the main action in the foreground of the work. Relying on his classical training, he created figures that are strong enough to convey drama and pathos.”
In Higginson’s book, black soldiers are portrayed as brave, committed, gentle, and deeply religious; de Knight captured these qualities in his figural drawings. Strong outcast arms bear tattered flags; wounded bodies fall in graceful demise; heads raise up in song; a new year is celebrated; a baby is welcomed; a fallen comrade is borne by sorrowing shoulders.
The Marsh Art Gallery, University of Richmond Museums, organized the exhibition in association with the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, Richmond. The exhibition is circulated by the Statewide Exhibitions Program, Office of Statewide Partnerships, Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, with funding from The Council of the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts.
The Alexandria Black History Resource Center is located at 638 North Alfred Street, Alexandria, Virginia. The center is open Tuesday through Saturday from 10:00 a.m. until 4:00 p.m. and Sundays from 1:00 to 5:00 p.m. The Center is owned and operated by the City of Alexandria. For more information, call (703) 838-4356.
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