Experience the Civil War with art exhibition “Distant Drum”

From Oct. 3 to Oct. 23, a solo art exhibition called “Distant Drum” by artist William Blake is currently available to view in the Wadsworth Family Gallery. Since Blake specializes in historical reenactments, the exhibition features paintings that portray people from the era of the Civil War.

“He specializes in Civil War reenactments, so when he attends the reenactments, he is actually putting himself in as an artist, who at the time would have been depicting the war,” said Art Gallery Director Natalie Swain. “So all of these paintings that are here [in the gallery] are based off of these reenactments and [he] is also portraying an artist who would have documented things going on during the war.”

On Blake’s website, it mentions that he lives and works outside Chicago and that his recent paintings depict scenes from American Civil War reenactments which he has been participating in for over 15 years. Some of his life-sized portraits reference artist-correspondent Winslow Homer’s croquet paintings created during and soon after the Civil War.

“He likes to show how the past relates to the present, so he brings out these paintings based off of the reenactments,” said Swain. “It kind of helps us connect with what’s happening today and since the war was taking place from 1861 to 1865, an artist named Winslow Homer would have been the one doing the actual documenting through painting.”

Out of all the pieces shown in the gallery, Swain says that her favorite painting is the one titled “Portrait of Aurora” because she enjoys the size and scale of it, as well as it being well-painted and realistic. For this painting, he made the canvas by nailing canvas on wood.

“I just love the sketch, the size and scale of it and it’s definitely the largest painting in the series,” said Swain. “I think he’s just trying to depict the way that it would have been back during those times, the way they would have made these canvases and paintings.”

On Blake’s website, it also mentions that he is an adjunct faculty member at Harper College, where he has taught Figure Drawing since 2020.

“He’s a teacher, but he also sells his work and he’s represented by a gallery in downtown Chicago, so he’s been successful with that,” said Swain. “We just like to show [the students] what it would be like for an artist working in their field.”

Usually for most shows held in the gallery, Swain doesn’t take any commission from the pieces sold from artists. For this exhibition, since Blake is represented by Gallery Victor Armendariz located in downtown Chicago, all sales of his pieces go through that gallery, who then takes 50 percent of his commission.

“They are for sale, but because he’s represented by a gallery downtown, all of the sales have to go through them, so a gallery is a business and they need to sell artwork and in order to stay afloat, they need to sell artwork,” said Swain. “It [50 percent] sounds like a lot, but keep in mind that they are a business, so that’s why they take that much and that’s also why art tends to be on the more expensive side.”

Students are encouraged to view this exhibition in the gallery because it’s good for the students to see the artwork which can visually tell them something about the present. Swain has had four professors visit the gallery with their classes, which included History Professor Dennis Cremin, Philosophy Professor Arsalan Memon, and Art Professors Mark Swain and Leslie Colonna.

“I think it’s nice to see something like this because the past can tell us something about the present and the future,” said Swain. “We have had a couple of professors visit with their class, and they were able to have a discussion about the artwork.”

The gallery talk and reception for this current exhibition will be on Oct. 20 from 7 to 9 p.m., where there will be a Q&A with the artist himself. Students who attend, will be able to earn Arts & Ideas credit.

The next exhibition in the gallery will be showing artwork from an Iranian group “Didaar Art Collective” which is made up of 16 artists and their gallery talk will be on Nov. 3.


Photo Credit: Katelyn Leano

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