Special to The Herald-Mail
With 23,110 casualties, the Battle of Antietam remains a day of great loss for America and it stimulated a chain of events leading to the Emancipation Proclamation and the Battle of Gettysburg.
The Cumberland Valley was the site of both of these campaigns and in the process of memorializing the dead, lands have been set aside and sanctified.
The Washington County Museum of Fine Arts will mount a long-term exhibition from June 16, 2012, to July 28, 2013, titled "Valley of the Shadow." The show will be a commemoration of the sesquicentennial of the Battles of Antietam and Gettysburg.
Characterized as a brother-against-brother conflict, the story of the American Civil War is laden with biblical overtones; thus the title, "Valley of the Shadow," a stanza from the 23rd Psalm, emerged as a particularly evocative and descriptive one.
It implies not only death, but anxiety, destruction, great emotion, separation from loved ones, concern for the community, inevitable change, and much more.
Most viewers will know the source, and the idea of the presence of hope even in the darkest of times is an important theme.
Supported in part by a Maryland Heritage Area Authority grant, plans for "Valley of the Shadow" were developed in close collaboration with the Heart of the Civil War Heritage Area, the Hagerstown-Washington County Convention and Visitors' Bureau, and other area cultural and civic entities.
The museum will actively participate in the "First Call" weekend in June 2011, which will launch Washington County's participation in this important commemoration.
Focused on telling the story of Hagerstown and Washington County during the Civil War, the exhibition and associated interpretive activities will take place during the 150th commemorations of the Maryland Campaign of 1862 and the Gettysburg Campaign of 1863.
The exhibition and associated educational programming will be presented in the largest exhibition gallery in the WCMFA, the Groh Gallery and will interpret the themes of combat — especially the Battles of South Mountain and Antietam — military life, Civil War medicine, memorializing the dead, African-American history, women's and children's history of the period, everyday life during the war, music and literature. The exhibition will function like a "museum within a museum."
Exhibition objects will include original works of art of the era, militariana, decorative and industrial arts, folk art, maps, archival materials, photographs, contemporary publications, and stereographic images. Exhibition text panels will elaborate on the themes using contemporary poetry, music, and quotations from eyewitnesses.
The exhibition planning team includes Stephen Bockmiller, author of the book, "Hagerstown during the Civil War"; Hagerstown resident Elizabeth Johns, professor emerita of art history at University of Pennsylvania; Charissa Beeler Stanton, historical preservationist and member of the staff of the HCWHA and CVB; Jennifer Chapman Smith, collections and exhibitions manager at WCMFA, as well as myself.
George Wunderlich, director of the Museum of Civil War Medicine in Frederick, Md., will also serve as a consultant to the project. John Frye, founder of the Western Maryland Room at Washington County Free Library, Thomas Clemens, Hagerstown Community College proffessor and other regional experts have advised the committee. Works of art and objects of material culture will include works from the WCMFA collection as well as numerous loaned objects from public and private collections.
The WCMFA will build upon previous research, partnerships, and resulting exhibitions, "The Unwritten War" (Aug. 15, 2009 to March 21, 2010) mounted in connection with regional events commemorating John Brown's March on Harper's Ferry, W.Va.; "The Circuit of the Summer Hills" (Jan. 16, 2010 to Feb. 6, 2011) representing the culture of post-Civil War mourning, and exhibitions in 1987 and 1962 commemorating the 100th and 125th anniversaries of the Battle of Antietam.
All of these exhibitions drew audiences interested in the Civil War to the museum, and interest in the most recent two led the WCMFA to extend the dates from the original plan in order to accommodate interest.
The lecture series associated with the "Circuit of the Summer Hills" exhibition received unprecedented levels of interest with overflow crowds for several of the lectures. An article about the exhibition, written by Elizabeth Johns, was published in the national magazine, American Art Review (May-June 2010). In conjunction with the "Valley of the Shadow" exhibition, the museum will again host educational and community activities during the exhibition, including a documentation day to provide expertise to area collectors.
Readers are invited to contact the museum with information, ideas and collections of interest to this important endeavour; many in this region are descended from those who fought, who cared for the wounded and dying, and who supplied sustenance to the thousands of soldiers from both sides who marched through the County.
Please respond to me or other members of the staff with your suggestions and contributions. Call the museum at 301-739-5727.