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What Does Memorial Day Look Like in Art?

By Chelsea Reed

Depictions of the military in artwork have been recorded by war artists in the United States since the first Revolutionary War. These special artists documented the visual aspects of war that were difficult to capture in written journals and historical accounts. Some, like Frederick Remington and James Pollock, carefully recreated battle scenes and portraits of the military through their talent on the field. Others, like Harvey Dunn, provided commentary on the topic of war by interpreting what they saw. These pragmatic pieces about U.S. wars are indeed fitting for Memorial Day, which observes and honors all fallen military who have served to defend our freedom.

The Origins of Memorial Day

waituntildarkMemorial Day traditions began three years after the end of the U.S. Civil War. Casualties of the Civil War were staggering compared to other major conflicts the U.S. engaged in. The American Union Army Major General John A. Logan declared a Decoration Day for the United States to decorate the graves of all fallen soldiers in remembrance. Decorating graves has been practiced since ancient times and is very much like a personal art form in itself.

Now known as Memorial Day, the federal holiday falls on the last Monday of May each year. The National Moment of Remembrance Act was passed in 2000 by Congress to remind U.S. citizens to remember the fallen in silence on 3 p.m. for one minute on that day.

Remembering the Fallen Through Art

Memorial Day traditions have a kinship with art in many ways. They encourage us to express honor, grief, and gratitude for our loved ones lost in war. These expressions come through paintings, poetry, sculpture, and theatrical performances. The Lincoln Statue in Union Square, New York City is a powerful example. This bronze statue cast by Henry Kirke Brown in 1868 comes alive each day at dusk telling the stories of 30 projected veterans who were interviewed and edited by modern artist Krzysztof Wodiczko.

Other classic statues and monuments also carry the legacy of our fallen military. The Civil War Unknown Monument in the Arlington National Cemetery was the first memorial in the U.S. dedicated to unknown soldiers who died in battle. It pays a beautiful tribute to 2,111 unidentified soldiers lost to the Civil War. The Three Soldiers, a bronze statue by Frederick Hart at Washington D.C’s National Mall, complements the Vietnam Veterans Memorial and depicts three young soldiers through their virtue and strength.

Through these and other examples of human expressions in art, we remind ourselves that the passing of our American heroes was not in vain.  We enjoy freedom in our country today because of their sacrifice. Be sure to take the time to remember our military this Memorial Day weekend. An excellent way to do this is to view Seaside Art Gallery’s American artwork collection. If you’re looking for something specific, you can call the gallery’s knowledgeable staff for help. Have a great Memorial Day!

Chelsea Reed is a freelance copywriter and blogger. She writes articles, blogs, online content, press releases, websites, and is published in North America.