Almost every vacation we went on, “The Book” went with us. It didn’t matter that we might be driving from our home state of Indiana to the coveted vacation destination of Disney World in Orlando, Florida—the book of every known Civil War site sat cozily next to the atlas in the front seat of the vehicle. The goal was to cross off every site in the book, or at least as many as possible. It was also necessary to take a picture of said site; verification was absolutely necessary.
You could say that my family loved the Civil War. All thanks to my dad.
After a childhood visit to Ft. Sumter in the harbor of Charleston, S.C., Larry Stuart developed a significant interest in the Civil War. As he pursued a degree in Fine Art in college, it wasn’t until his senior-year history professor, Dr. George Rable, inquired why he wasn’t a history major that my dad realized how much of a passion it truly was.
Years went on, a career in graphic design was pursued, a family was started, and his freedom of artistic creativity was replaced by the desires of paying clients—something all artists dread.
I remember as a child asking my father why he didn’t pursue his dreams, curious as to why he didn’t seem to “love” his job. His replies often revolved around duty and responsibility. He had the job that he did so that we could be a family. However, I came from the era when people left and right were preaching to kids about the importance of following one’s dreams, so I wasn’t very happy with this answer (although I learned later that we, our family, were, in fact, his dream).
Recently, though, he got to pursue his old dream.
After about eight years of artistic exploration through the lens of a camera, my father premiered his first professional art show in April of 2011, showcasing the efforts of his newly developed passion: fine art photography (see the images of that show here). Combining his never-ending love of history with various mediums of photography, Stuart discovered what he had long been looking for: his artistic dream.
Finding himself amidst a pursuit of new passions, my dad decided that his next step would be to make the ultimate combination. Why not do a fine art photography show containing Civil War sites? Given that he just so happened to have a daughter that worked at the second-largest military park in the world (Fredericksburg and Spotsylvania National Military Park in Virginia), he decided to spend a week on those historic grounds capturing the spirit of what was left behind.
No, we’re not talking about ghosts here, but rather the stories that have been left untold. The lives that will never be lived.
After months of processing his photos in the style of Pictorialism, my father returned to Fredericksburg in early February 2012 to reveal his latest work.
I couldn’t have been a prouder daughter.
Of course, family achievements such as this tend to evoke emotional sentiments simply because of the personal connection with the achiever. However, this achievement was an answer to a question my question asked oh-so-long ago. This achievement was a display of patience, of persistence, of determination.
Skillfully crafting his passion for Civil War history and his desire to communicate through art, Larry Stuart, my father, found a way to shape his far off dreams into something real.
His show, “Sacred Scars, Shadowed Ground,” still stands, but only for a little while longer. Visitors can see it at Chatham Manor in Fredericksburg, VA, until next week, March 16th, 2012. Can’t make it? His website has a few of the images posted while his Etsy site has even more.
Sure, I guess I’m biased on this one. But as a Civil War historian, these images hauntingly capture the stories we dutifully try to share here at the park. I might be so biased to say that these images might even do it better than we historians do.