MHS News

Tell It with Pride Opens at the MHS 21 February

Tell It with PrideOrganized by the National Gallery of Art (NGA) in Washington, D.C. and in cooperation with the MHS, Tell It with Pride: The 54th Massachusetts Regiment and Augustus Saint-Gaudens' Shaw Memorial will open at the Society 21 February and be on exhibit through 23 May. The exhibition celebrates Augustus Saint-Gaudens's magisterial Shaw Memorial (1883–1900). The monument commemorates the 18 July 1863 storming of Fort Wagner. The Civil War battle was waged by Col. Robert Gould Shaw and the 54th Massachusetts Regiment, one of the first African American military units raised in the North. Although the 54th was defeated at Fort Wagner and almost a third of the regiment was killed or wounded, the battle was seen as a turning point in the war: it proved that African Americans’ bravery and dedication to country equaled that of the nation’s most celebrated heroes.

When Saint-Gaudens created the monument, he based his likeness of Shaw on photographs of the colonel, but for his depiction of the other soldiers, he hired African American men to pose in his studio. This exhibition seeks to make real the soldiers of the 54th represented anonymously in the memorial. It brings together vintage photographic portraits of members of the regiment and of the men and women who recruited, nursed, taught, and guided them. To represent the variety of soldiers in the 54th, Saint-Gaudens searched for models in New York and Boston. In all, he sculpted some 40 heads over the course of several years, 23 of which he incorporated into the final relief. The exhibition showcases 5 heads on loan from the U.S. Department of the Interior, National Park Service, Saint-Gaudens National Historic Site, Cornish, N.H., cast from the artist's clay sketches, which illustrate Saint-Gaudens' great sensitivity as a portraitist.

The Society is pleased to have contributed to the national exhibition by providing a number of photographs, a recruiting poster, and a letter that Gov. John A. Andrew wrote to Francis Shaw offering command of the 54th to Shaw's son, Robert. 

Sarah Greenough, senior curator and head of the department of photographs at the NGA, and Nancy Anderson, curator and head of American and British paintings at the NGA, are the curators of the exhibition, which is accompanied by a fully illustrated catalog and a printed brochure.

Throughout the run of the exhibition, special programs are planned in cooperation with the Museum of African American History, Boston African American National Historic Site, and the Friends of the Public Garden.

Published: Tuesday, 11 February, 2014, 3:18 PM