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Gapers Block published from April 22, 2003 to Jan. 1, 2016. The site will remain up in archive form. Please visit Third Coast Review, a new site by several GB alumni.
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Friday, March 31

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Art Thu Apr 12 2012

The Civil War in Art


Our Banner in the Sky, 1861. Frederic Edwin Church 1826-1900
Terra Foundation for American Art, Daniel J. Terra Collection 1992.27

The American culture is highly visual, and always has been, with the creation of great works of art punctuating some of our darkest days. A joint effort between seven premier cultural organizations in Chicago has resulted in a new website that will connect students to a piece of American history through art, fostering critical thinking and a deeper understanding of our national roots.

The online resource, The Civil War in Art: Teaching & Learning through Chicago Collections, has culled nearly 130 works of art and uses them as a basis for discussing the Civil War in the classroom. Funded and developed by the Terra Foundation for American Art, the tool was created in conjunction with teachers, historians, and museum and library professionals.

The artwork features photos, paintings, prints and sculptures. They invite students to experience the war through the lens of a camera, feel the celebration of the Emancipation Proclamation through the strokes of a paintbrush, and recognize the sacrifices of families and soldiers as reflected in memorials made of stone and clay.

While geared toward students, the site offers a rich set of resources for any history buff. The wealth of information accompanying each piece of art provides a visual map of Civil War culture, issues and challenges. Enthusiasts can get lost browsing through general exhibits featuring figures like Lincoln, or sifting through the image gallery by selecting a tag, like "Newspapers & Magazines," or "Civil Rights Movement."


Lincoln Speaks to Freedmen on the Steps of the Capital at Richmond, 1963. Gus Nall
DuSable Museum of African American History, permanent loan from the Illinois State Historic Library 1987.15.24

The high-resolution gallery of objects, many of which were previously unavailable online, allows students and teachers to examine, zoom in, and interact with the pieces in detail. Each image includes a short essay describing the work and discussing the causes and impact of the war and the role art played. The site includes a glossary of nearly 200 art and historical terms and biographies for reference.

Perhaps most valuable aspect of the site though, is the inclusion of lesson plans that have been developed and tested by teachers for teachers. The featured classroom projects recommend an appropriate age range for each assignment and encourage students to interact with the art and inject themselves into the historical context by comparing and contrasting different works and discussing the themes represented. This tool enables teachers to create dynamic lessons about a crucial time period, while helping students learn to appreciate history as well as art.

The project evolved from the Terra Teacher Lab initiative, an annual year-long professional development program for Chicago public school teachers that employs the history of American art to promote critical thinking in the classroom and enrich social studies, language arts, and visual art curricula.

Organizations contributing art and content to The Civil War in Art include the Art Institute of Chicago, Chicago History Museum, Chicago Park District, Chicago Public Library, DuSable Museum of African American History, Newberry Library, and Terra Foundation for American Art. Historian Margaret Storey and art historian Mark Pohlad, both faculty members at DePaul University, served as consultants and writers.

The site will be valuable in the classroom, offering a highly tech savvy generation access to a historical education in a familiar and engaging medium.

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Architecture Tue Nov 03 2015

Paul Goldberger Describes the "Pragmatism and Poetry" of Frank Gehry's Architecture in His New Book

By Nancy Bishop

Architecture critic Paul Goldberger talks about Frank Gehry's life and work in a new book.
Read this feature »

Steve at the Movies Fri Jan 01 2016

Best Feature Films & Documentaries of 2015

By Steve Prokopy

Read this column »


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A/C is the arts and culture section of Gapers Block, covering the many forms of expression on display in Chicago. More...
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