As part of the National Portrait Gallery’s commemoration of the 150th anniversary of the Civil War, the Center for Electronic Research and Outreach Services (CEROS) will be filming NPG curators and historians, as well as outside scholars, discussing the events and personalities of the great conflict. Beginning with David C. Ward’s commentary (above) on the Lincoln life masks by Leonard Wells Volk and Clark Mills, the NPG website will continue to showcase talks that illuminate the lives of those who conducted America through its greatest trial.
Benjamin Bloom, NPG web developer, said of the project, “We are really excited about this work. Our goal is to bring the museum’s collection to light in the context of the Civil War, and we have excellent living resources available to us in our scholars.”
The Patent Office Building—now the Donald W. Reynolds Center for American Art and Portraiture and home of the National Portrait Gallery and Smithsonian American Art Museum—will be the location of much of the filming. The building, which was the site of significant activity during the war, was first a hospital for the wounded of nearby battles such as Fredericksburg and Chancellorsville. Later, President Lincoln’s second inaugural ball was held in the building. Walt Whitman (right), who volunteered during the war, spent much time in Washington and in the Patent Office Building; he called it “that noblest of Washington buildings.” In his journals he describes quite viscerally how it was “crowded close with rows of sick, badly wounded, and dying soldiers.”
The project will also take to the road to feature interviews and footage from area battlefields, cemeteries, and historic properties. Warren Perry, NPG researcher and interviewer for the series, said, “We have the chance to connect the personalities of the Civil War with the geography of the experience. Each small episode will contain the presence of the National Portrait Gallery and will coincide with a sesquicentennial commemorative moment. We will be actively participating in the larger Smithsonian commemoration, but tying our discourse directly to the Smithsonian’s largest Civil War property, the old Patent Office Building.”
The Patent Office Building—now the Donald W. Reynolds Center for American Art and Portraiture and home of the National Portrait Gallery and Smithsonian American Art Museum. Courtesy of Timothy Hursley
Walt Whitman, 1819-1892 / George C. Cox (1851-1902) / Platinum print, 1887 / National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution; gift of Mr. and Mrs. Charles Feinberg
Patent Office Building / John Plumba Jr. / Daguerreotype, c. 1846 / Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress, Washington D.C.