An exhibition at Drake University’s Anderson Gallery offers a fresh perspective on the American Civil War through the display of selected editorial cartoons from Harper’s Weekly, a popular illustrated publication from that time. “Draw Your Weapons: Civil War Cartoons from Harper’s Weekly” is running through January 24, 2014.
First launched in 1857, Harper’s Weekly reached hundreds of thousands of people living in the U.S., who read the magazine on the battlefield and in the privacy of their homes. The cartoons cover an array of subjects, including the conduct of the war, the political and military leadership of both North and South, the status of enslaved African Americans and newly emancipated people, the possibility of English support for the Confederacy, and gender relations.
“This exhibit offers a chance to think about the period in a way that maybe people haven’t before—through the medium of the cartoon,” says Maura Lyons, associate professor of art history. “So many of these issues remain relevant. It really is a chance to think about where we are now, to gauge what has changed or not changed. There are definitely some conflicts, disputes, and prejudices that haven’t disappeared today.”
As part of the exploration of these shared themes and issues, the student curators paired Harper’s illustrations with 19th and 20th century examples. The pairings consider varieties and similarities in subject matter and visual format.
The exhibition was extensively researched and designed as a collaboration between Lyons and eleven students from her curatorship course. The course, dedicated to the research, design, and installation of a major exhibition at the Anderson Gallery, is now in its fourth semester. Students involved in the current exhibition have various backgrounds, including art history, history, and theater design.
Related public programming
Several discussions are being offered in conjunction with the exhibition. A series of guest lectures will cover topics from the power of visual and literary satire to the more technical process of editorial cartooning:
• Opening Reception and Gallery Talk with Maura Lyons and the student curators. Thursday, Nov. 7, 5–7 p.m., Gallery talk at 6 p.m., Anderson Gallery.
• Blood Lines: The Civil War in Caricature, a public lecture presented by Richard Samuel West. Thursday, Nov. 14, 7 p.m., Cowles Library Reading Room.
• Gallery Talk with Rachel Paine Caufield, associate professor of politics. Thursday, Dec. 5, 7 p.m., Anderson Gallery.
• Gallery Talk with Brian Duffy. Thursday, Jan. 9, 7 p.m., Anderson Gallery.
This exhibition and the related programming are made possible in part through support from Humanities Iowa, a state-based affiliate of the National Endowment for the Humanities, The State Historical Society, Inc., the Gilder Lerman Institute of American History, in association with the Library of America and the National Endowment for the Humanities, and Drake University's Office of the Provost.
Can't make it to the gallery?
A website dedicated to the exhibition will launch on Nov. 7. The website includes research information, imagery, and commentary, as well as options for downloading audio content.
For more information, contact the Anderson Gallery at 515-271-1994 or visit the gallery website at www.drake.edu/andersongallery.