By Rachel Hudson
This week’s item is a trio of hand-painted clam shells by an artist by the name of Charles D. Low. The earliest piece shows a scene from a Civil War camp; the next piece shows a woman by the ocean and is dated 1910; the last piece shows a bloody Revolutionary War scene and is dated 1919. Like many folk art pieces, this is a relatively unknown artist, but he captures what life was like for him both during and after the Civil War. It is difficult to say exactly what each piece means due to the individualistic nature of folk art, however, many of the regional and cultural influences of the north can be seen.
This piece includes the writing, “Painted by his own hand, C. D. Low As I was at Boliver Heights, Virginia September 1864 in the Shanandoah Valley Va. with General Sheridan.” At this time this site functioned not only used as a battle field, but as a the largest corral and wagon yard in the Shenandoak Valley. According to the National Park Service, “during Union Maj. Gen. Philip H. Sheridan’s Shenandoah Valley Campaign of 1864, Sheridan converted Bolivar Heights into a temporary corral for thousands of mules and hundreds of quartermaster wagons, waiting to transport supplies and munitions south.” The figure, presumably of the artist himself, is shown in full uniform, complete with rifle and pack. The next largest objects in the background are the pot of beans over the fire and the American flag. This piece may have been a memento for the event it describes, but it is unclear if it was made when the artist was still in the army. It seems unlikely, since many Civil War pastimes had to be easily transported, but it is not impossible. Union soldiers had better access to resources and often did partake in artistic endeavors, such as carving and drawing.
The other two pieces also seem to have the same kind of souvenir quality as the Civil War piece. The painting of the woman beside the ocean has the message “Pricilla of the Olden Days” and “At Rockaway Beach, NY” painted along with the picture. During the late 1800s and early 1900s, Rockaway Beach was a popular vacation destination for New Yorkers. With the construction of the railroad station at this time, it became easier for people of many different economic backgrounds to travel to vacation destinations like this. Hotels, amusement parks and stores opened up to attract people, like the artist, to visit. The last shell painted with the Revolutionary War scene does not have the same description of the place where it was painted as the other two, so it’s hard to say if it was done as a memento or souvenir.