An exhibit containing 17 portraits of men who served in Company G of the 25th United States Colored Troops has been installed at Fort Negley Visitor Center and Park in Nashville, Tenn.
The portraits were created by Michigan artist Shayne Davidson. While helping a friend with genealogy research, a small photo album containing 17 black-and-white images caught Davidson’s eye. All were African Americans who had served with her friend’s great-grandfather, a white man, who was captain of Company G during the Civil War. And all but one of the soldiers was identified by name in the album.
The album inspired Davidson to research and paint a life-sized portrait of each man based on their photo. She complimented each portrait with a brief biography of the man based on her research.
“Each man is depicted as an individual,” Davidson explains. “His pose, expression, uniform, and record are unique to him.”
Because the Civil War was an era of sepia-toned photography and rigid engravings, Davidson’s warm, colorful portraits have brought these men’s personalities to life in a new and approachable way. After reading the biographies, visitors often find themselves looking up at the soldiers’ faces, ready to ask questions as if meeting new friends for the first time.
To-date, “Seventeen Men” has been exhibited at the DeVos Convention Center in Grand Rapids, Gifts of Art in Ann Arbor, Michigan, John Hopkins Evergreen Museum & Library in Baltimore, the Montpelier Mansion in Laurel, Maryland, and Sumner Hall in Chestertown, Maryland.
Sumner Hall is one of only two African-American ‘Grand Army of the Republic’ buildings in the United States still in existence today and the only one in the nation that serves as a community center. While on exhibit there, “Seventeen Men” was reviewed by America’s Civil War Magazine.
This media exposure caught the eye of Krista Castillo, Manager at Fort Negley Visitors Center and Park, operated by the Nashville Metropolitan Board of Parks and Recreation. Of these 17 men depicted in the photographs, three have direct connections to Tennessee.
Constructed largely by African-Americans after the Union capture of Nashville, Fort Negley is the largest inland Civil War fort. The fort remains an attraction for visitors and offers one of the best views of city of Nashville today. The Visitors Center and Park also offers school and group programming, as well as interactive exhibits.
The Fort Negley is open Tuesday-Friday noon-4 p.m. and Saturday 9 a.m.-4 p.m. The exhibit, sponsored in part by the Civil War Trails program, runs through June 19. For more information, call (615) 862-8470.
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Civil War Trails, Inc.