By Dani Frank
At a first appraisal, the idea of Colts, the legendary brand of firearms originated by Samuel Colt, and warmth-giving patchwork quilts being featured in an art exhibit together seems to be an inane collaboration. Colts & Quilts: The Civil War Remembered spotlights these two objects as contributions and reactions by American men and women responding to a four-year long war raging on their own home turf. In honor of the arrival of the 150-year anniversary of the American Civil War, The Wadsworth Atheneum, in conjunction with the American Art Department and guest curator Lynne Bassett, is remembering the events and significance of the war through art.
Spotlighting the Wadsworth’s pre-existing collection of American art, including designs by Samuel Colt himself, Colts & Quilts: The Civil War Remembered has crafted vignettes to introduce visitors to the hardships and ingenuity of life in 1861, Civil War-stricken America. Illustrating the transitions for women surviving on the homefront, borrowed costumes, from a vibrant green, hoop-skirt constructed dress to the bright, intricately patterned quilts of hope and optimism, evoke the effects of the Civil War on the country’s women.
In stark contrast to indications of independence and the budding Suffragette movement, are more somber pieces, specifically the New Model Holster Pistol, .44 caliber and bearing an 8-inch barrel, and the exhibit’s last piece, a painting circa 1864 by Winslow Homer, entitled “The Red Feather.” A lone woman stands, contemplative on a hillside, donning a red feather in her hat. The significance of the red icon can be interpreted as a painful reminder or attempt at optimism. Yet her solitary existence and piercing gaze seem to paint a clear picture.
The exhibits collection of remnants of the war will strike a chord with visitors. Be it the inclusion of a tattered Confederate flag, or Harriet Hosmer’s Zenobia, a handcuffed, mournful sculpture and a symbol of the Abolitionist, “Colts and Quilts” is a reminder of the leaps and bounds our country has made in acceptance and unity. The power of imagery is in and of itself an educator. But, to further elaborate on the hardships of the Civil War and provide visitors with a greater understanding, panels, lectures and events will be held by experts to expand upon the exhibit’s undercurrents and symbols.
Beginning with a celebration of Martin Luther King Jr. Day, featuring hands-on crafting activities, live music and poetry, and continuing into May, activities will be held at the Wadsworth to encourage open discussion and understanding of the Civil War. Stop by for a discussion of the iconic “Uncle Tom’s Cabin”, or participate in a talk given by guest curator Lynne Bassett. Tours will be given to give visitors a first-hand understanding of the different facets of Colts and Quilts.
“Colts and Quilts: The Civil War Remembered” will be on display at the Wadsworth Atheneum through May 6, 2012.
The Wadsworth Atheneum Museum of Art
600 Main Street
Hartford, CT 06103
Hours: Wed, Thurs and Fri 11am-5pm; Sat and Sun 10am-5pm