17 Portraits: Men of the 25th United States Colored Troops, Company G
Anyone with an interest in portraiture and the Civil War, particularly African-American soldiers, will want to see Shayne Davidson's Civil War Soldiers showing at DeVos Place during ArtPrize 2013 (September 18-October 6, 2013). Civil War Soldiers is comprised of 17 life-sized colored pencil portraits based on rare, identified photos of and documents about a group of men who served together in the 25th United States Colored Troops, Company G. The portraits incorporate portions of the men's military records on the artwork. A biographical card with a copy of the original photo accompanies each piece.
"In addition to creating the portraits, I did careful genealogical research on each man and wrote a short biography of him, including fascinating details about his life before and after the war. The men's backgrounds varied quite a bit. Some of the men were free before the war and some of them were enslaved at the time of their enlistment," says Davidson.
The photos upon which the portraits are based are tiny, called gem-sized (small enough to fit in a locket) photos, which came from an album owned by the men's Captain, William A. Prickett. Davidson knows of only one other album of identified photos of African-American Civil War soldiers containing as many photos as Captain Prickitt's album and that album is in the library of Yale University. The reason only 17 men were photographed of the more than 100 men in Company G is not known.
The men of Civil War Soldiers are a group woven together by shared experience and history. "When you see these men pictured together in life-sized portraits, you get the sense of them as individuals but it also becomes a group portrait," comments Davidson. "Each man is unique in aspects such as facial expression, how he wears his uniform, whether or not he chose to be pictured with his rifle or shoulder scales. We know that the men worked closely together and went through a lot together - they must have depended an enormous amount on each other."
Shayne Davidson studied painting and drawing at Cooper Union in New York City and received a BFA from California Institute of the Arts where she studied with conceptual artist John Baldessari. She received an MFA from the University of Michigan in medical illustration. She has exhibited with the New York Society of Illustrators and has worked as an illustrator and graphic designer for many years. Shayne is also an experienced genealogist. She lives in Ann Arbor, Michigan.