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Civil War battle gallery by local artist in Berlin

9/20/12 | By Nathan Brunet, Staff Writer

BERLIN — Marking the 150th anniversary of the Battle of Antietam, artist Kevin Fitzgerald will officially open his latest showing in the Water’s Edge Gallery on Friday, Sept. 21.

The exhibit represents both the American Civil War conflict’s significance to American history and to the artist’s own personal life, as well.

At 9 years old, Fitzgerald’s parents brought him to the site of the battle at Sharpsburg, Md. on the eve of the battle’s 100th anniversary in 1962.

While picnicking under a tree next to Burnside Bridge, Fitzgerald was so taken away by the scene that he later said it was a major turning point in his life.

“The bridge is so beautiful. Seeing the manmade structure surrounded by nature, I was taken away,” Fitzgerald said.

It was at that moment that he derived some artistic thoughts from the scene, he said.

“The combination of man and nature, is a metaphor to how America united after the war,” he said.

There is also a contrast between the scenery and historical significance that struck a chord with Fitzgerald.

“It is such a beautiful place and yet the setting for such a horrible event,” he said. “The moment was something that was very powerful for me and helped make my life meaningful.”

Noted as the bloodiest single-day battle in American history, about 23,000 Union and Confederate soldiers died, were wounded or were reported missing on Sept. 17, 1862.

As the first major Civil War battle on Union soil, the conflict was considered a tactical draw, but a strategic victory for the north because it ended Confederate General Robert E. Lee’s campaign to invade the northern states.

The battle’s outcome allowed then Union President Abraham Lincoln to call for emancipation before he issued the Emancipation Proclamation on Jan. 1, 1863. Since the Union did not want to look as if it was issuing the order out of desperation, its leaders did not want to make the public address until after a military victory.

Burnside Bridge, the structure depicted in two of Fitzgerald’s paintings in the gallery, played a major role in the battle, as both sides continued to push back and forth on the structure.

Using oil paints, Fitzgerald separately painted the north and south facing landscapes featuring the bridge and the tree he ate under with the intention of creating a harmony of peace and tranquility.

Fusing styles of iconic painters from the past such as Claude Monet, Rembrandt van Rijn and Titian, the paintings have a dark mood.

“The darkness is calming, just as if you’re looking at a campfire or candle lit in a dark room,” Fitzgerald said.

This style of painting is what the artist is known for, as essentially all of his works are tranquil, yet gloomy.

Fitzgerald’s deeper reasoning for the style is to recognize the fact that life is never perfect, no matter how peaceful the moment.

“Think of artificialities we see all the time such as fake smiles in pictures. The world isn’t really like that,” he said.

One of Fitzgerald’s Battle of Antietam paintings is supplemented with a case filled with items of personal value to the artist, such as toy soldiers he played with at the battle’s site and a poem he wrote about the conflict, and a newspaper article about the battle printed on its 100th anniversary stands next to the painting.

Called an “Instillation,” an educational exhibit of art, the artist’s goal of the display is to instill in the viewer a sense of enlightenment.

“All artists hope when a viewer comes in contact with their work, a connection forms between the artist and that person,” Fitzgerald said.

Surrounding the other of Fitzgerald’s Battle of Antietam paintings are two charcoal drawings of the toy soldiers situated in the display case.

None of the Battle of Antietam pieces are available for purchase, but Fitzgerald’s other works hung in the gallery can be bought.

Paintings of local artists Brooke Rogers and Randy Hoffman are also featured.

A wine and cheese party held Friday from 5-8 p.m. at the Water’s Edge Gallery on South Main Street will officially open the Battle of Antietam gallery

The showing will be up throughout the month and remain displayed for a short while after.

For more information on Fitzgerald and his gallery, visit http://watersedgeberlin.com.

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