Friday, September 24, 2010

Harold Holzer - The Image of the Emancipation Proclamation in Art and Memory

Harold Holzer, Senior Vice President for External Affairs at The Metropolitan Museum of Art, serves also as co-chairman of the U. S. Abraham Lincoln Bicentennial Commission, appointed by President Clinton. He is the author, co-author, or editor of 35 books on Lincoln and the Civil War era. Among them are The Lincoln Image, The Confederate Image, The Lincoln-Douglas Debates, Lincoln as I Knew Him, Dear Mr. Lincoln: Letters to the President, Mine Eyes Have Seen the Glory: The Civil War in Art, The Lincoln Family Album, Lincoln on Democracy (co-edited with Mario Cuomo), which has been published in four languages, and Lincoln at Cooper Union: The Speech that Made Abraham Lincoln President, which won a 2005 Lincoln Prize. His latest books are: Lincoln President-Elect: Abraham Lincoln and the Great Secession Winter 1860-1861 (2008), which won the Barondess/Lincoln Award and the Award of Achievement of the Lincoln Group of New York; The Lincoln Anthology (2009), a Library of America collection featuring 150 years of great writers on the subject of Abraham Lincoln; and In Lincoln’s Hand (2009), featuring Lincoln’s original manuscripts with commentary by distinguished Americans; and Lincoln and New York (2009), the catalogue of a New-York Historical Society exhibition for which he served as chief historian. Holzer has also written more than 425 articles over the past 35 years in both scholarly and popular publications, and contributed chapters and prefaces to 30 additional volumes. He has won many research and writing awards, most recently the National Endowment Medal from President Bush in 2008. A former journalist, and political and government press secretary (for both Bella Abzug and Mario Cuomo), Holzer has served as an executive at the Metropolitan Museum of Art since 1992. He and his wife, Edith, who live in Rye, New York, have two grown daughters and a grandson.

Dr. Holzer examined the image of Lincoln and the Emancipation Proclamation starting with the earliest editions. He did this via a PowerPoint presentation, so this summarization will not do it justice.

Holzer began with some of the earliest lithographs of the Proclamation and showed how they were very unpopular at the time. He compared these with Southern images of Lincoln cutting a deal with the devil as he signed the proclamation.

After Lincoln’ assassination, images of the Emanciapton Proclamation grew in popularity. Holzer showed a great lithograph that showed the cabinet meeting where Lincoln unveiled his proclamation. For some reason, General Grant is in the meeting, pointing at a map. This artist apparently needed money later on, so he created a Confederate version in which he superimposed Jefferson Davis and his cabinet into the print and replaced Grant with Lee.

The irony, of course, is that Jefferson Davis is holding a copy of the Emancipation Proclamation in his hands!

Holzer closed with several modern images of President Obama and the Lincoln Memorial.

Recommended Reading:

Allen C. Guelzo. Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation: The End of Slavery in America. New York: Simon & Schuster, 2004.

Harold Holzer, Edna Greene Medford, & Frank J. Williams. The Emancipation Proclamation: Three Views. Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 2006.

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