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BC McMullen Museum Presents Public Debut of'First Hand: Civil War Era Drawings from the Becker Collection' September 5-December 13, 2009

largest private collection, 'national treasure' enhances understanding of nation’s conflicted past

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McMullen Museum of Art

CHESTNUT HILL, MA (September 2009) — The McMullen Museum of Art at Boston College  presents to the public for the first time drawings by Joseph Becker and his colleagues, nineteenth-century artists who worked as artist-reporters (Special Artists) for Frank Leslie’s Illustrated Newspaper.

On view from September 5 through December 13, 2009, First Hand: Civil War Era Drawings from the Becker Collection showcases the largest private collection of Civil War era drawings, which have never been exhibited. It includes landmark drawings by some of the era’s most notable artists, including Edwin Forbes and Henri Lovie.

According to the exhibition curators, Boston College Fine Arts Department faculty members Judith Bookbinder and Sheila Gallagher, who is Becker's great-great-granddaughter (more below), the Becker Collection is a national treasure that adds significantly to our understanding of the nation’s conflicted past, and the exhibition presents an untapped historical resource.


Battle of Shiloh (or Pittsburg Landing), Tennessee, Left Wing Near the Peach Orchard
Henri Lovie


The Special Artists drew and sent back for publication images of the Civil War, construction of the railroads, laying of the transatlantic cable, Chinese immigrants in the West, Indian wars, Great Chicago Fire, and many other news stories in late nineteenth-century America. These firsthand drawings document key developments in American history as the nation struggled to establish its identity. At a time when photography could depict only staged or still moments, these drawings recorded live-action historical events that then were used as visual documentation in newspapers.

“The McMullen is pleased to present to the public for the first time highlights from the Becker Collection, an extensive archive of eyewitness drawings documenting the Civil War. These drawings, by Special Artists embedded with the Union armies, are unique primary sources, which tell the story of the Civil War as never before,” says McMullen Museum Director and Professor of Art History Nancy Netzer. “Long thought to have been lost, these drawings testify to the significant role artists played in the development of American art and journalism.”

Public Opening Celebration: Sunday, September 6
On Sunday, September 6, the public is invited to join BC community members at a free opening celebration at the Museum at 7:30 p.m. [Please call 617.552.8587 for information.] A black-tie opening for invited guests will be held the following week.

First Hand: Civil War Era Drawings from the Becker Collection
The only other exhibition of firsthand Civil War era drawings was at the National Gallery in 1961 to mark the centennial of the beginning of the Civil War. According to the organizers of the current exhibition, First Hand: Civil War Era Drawings from the Becker Collection is timed to coordinate with the sesquicentennial of the beginning of the Civil War. After its debut at the McMullen Museum, sections will be displayed at other venues in 2010 and 2011 (more below). It departs significantly from the National Gallery exhibition, by presenting these drawings not just as historical documents but also as works of art.

The McMullen Museum exhibition is a part of a larger project led by the curators—who are co-directors of the Becker Collection—to introduce the collection of approximately 650 works to the scholarly community as an archive and academic resource.

Joseph Becker (18-41-1910) preserved and passed the original artists' drawings down through his family for generations. His great-great-granddaughter Gallagher became familiar with them during childhood, and when her mother inherited them in the mid-1990s, spearheaded an effort to conserve and catalogue the collection at BC.

The collection’s Web site ( features high-resolution digital images of each of the works in addition to information about the collection, the artists’ biographies, and related resources.

The exhibition focuses on more than 135 drawings by Becker and 13 of his colleagues, supplemented by artifacts, prints, photographs, and books from the Civil War. Installation by McMullen Museum exhibition designer Diana Larsen and graphic designer John McCoy. Exhibition labels and wall texts written by the curators.

Exhibition Sections:  
Introduction: The Civil War in Four Minutes: A video animation.
Section 1: Hand/Eye: Drawing as Information/Drawing as Art: Reveals the mark-making process and presents these documentary drawings as works of art.
Section 2: In the Midst of Battle: Brief biographical profile of the Special Artists and their respective representative drawings to illustrate the scope of the war and their role.
Section 3: Time Out from Battle: Drawings and artifacts arranged thematically to highlight non-combat situations depicted by the Special Artists.
Section 4: From Drawing to Newspaper Illustration: Comparisons with contemporary photographs and published engravings in Frank Leslie’s Illustrated Newspaper highlight how information about the war was conveyed and altered in these mediae.
Section 5: Postwar News Stories: Drawings of major news stories covered after 1865.
Section 6: New Discoveries:  Highlights the work of BC undergraduates done in a Civil War drawings course to discover the identities of the unknown artists who made drawings in the collection. 
Digital Archive: In a nearby study lounge, visitors will have online access to the complete Becker Collection and additional research resources through its Web site, which acts as an interactive teaching tool. A goal is to create a research lab online for scholars, educators, and students.

Accompanying Exhibition Catalogue and Programming
Among Boston College contributors to the accompanying scholarly catalogue are Judith Bookbinder, Instructor of Art History; Sheila Gallagher, Associate Professor of Fine Arts; James O’Toole, Professor of History and Charles I. Clough Chair in History; James Wallace, Associate Professor of English; and Nirmal Trivedi, Ph.D. in English.

Other contributors are Vincent Cannato, Associate Professor of History, University of Massachusetts, Boston; Robert Emlen, University Curator, Brown University; Harry Katz, formerly Curator of Prints and Drawings, Library of Congress; Lucia Knoles, Professor of English, Assumption College; Natasha Seaman, Assistant Professor of Art History, Rhode Island College.

Accompanying programming will include public lectures, a concert of Civil War era music, and poetry readings. 

Exhibition Sponsors/Other Venues 
The exhibition and catalogue have been underwritten by Boston College with major support from the Patrons of the McMullen Museum. Additional support has been provided by the Military Historical Society of Massachusetts and Tracy Shupp.

The exhibition will be shown in its entirety only at the McMullen Museum. A section will be shown at Saint-Gaudens National Historic Site in Cornish, NH, in spring 2010, and at the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts in 2011.

McMullen Museum of Art
The McMullen Museum is renowned for organizing interdisciplinary exhibitions that ask new questions and break new ground in the display and scholarship of the works on view. It serves as a dynamic educational resource for all of New England as well as the national and international community. The Museum mounts exhibitions of international scholarly importance from all periods and cultures in the history of art. In keeping with the University’s central teaching mission, the Museum’s exhibitions are accompanied by scholarly catalogues and related public programs. The McMullen Museum was named in 1996 by the late Boston College benefactor, trustee, and art collector John J. McMullen and his wife Jacqueline McMullen.

McMullen Museum Hours and Tours
Admission is free; handicapped accessible and open to the public. Located in Devlin Hall on BC’s Chestnut Hill campus, 140 Commonwealth Avenue. Hours during this exhibition: Monday through Friday, 11 a.m. to 4 p.m.; Saturday and Sunday, noon to 5 p.m. Extended hours: Friday, September 25: 11 a.m.–5 p.m.; Saturday and Sunday, September 26 and 27: 9 a.m. –5 p.m. The Museum will be closed on the following dates: Monday, September 7; Monday, October 12; Thursday, November 26; Friday, November 27. On-campus parking will be unavailable on the following Saturdays: September 5, September 12, September 26, October 3, October 17, October 31, November 21. Free group tours: Sundays at 12:30 p.m., beginning September 20. Tours also may be arranged upon request by calling 617.552.8587. For directions, parking and information on public programs, visit or call 617.552.8100

[MEDIA NOTE: Jpg images available upon request from the Museum: please call Margaret Neeley at 617.552.4676 or email her at A slideshow of images and more exhibition details are available at]