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Acquisitions

John Huddleston


John Huddleston
Conrad Noll/Tapp Farm, Wilderness, Virginia, 5-7 May 1864
2004
photo and photocopy
Museum purchase made possible by the W. Hawkins Ferry Fund, 2004/1.158

The University of Michigan Museum of Art has a rich history of commissioning new work from contemporary artists. Alumni Memorial Hall—UMMA’s home since its establishment in 1946—was originally built to commemorate the 1,500 University of Michigan alumni who were lost in the US Civil War and remains the largest war memorial in Ann Arbor. To accompany its 2004 exhibition of photographs by John Huddleston entitled Killing Ground: Photographs of the Civil War and the Changing American Landscape, and to recognize the University’s role in the Civil War, UMMA commissioned a paired work from the artist.

Killing Ground was the result of Huddleston’s nationwide odyssey to capture contemporary sites marked by the Civil War. He paired historical images of the conflict and its time—battlefield scenes, soldiers living and dead, prisoners of war, civilians, and slaves—with his own color photographs of the same locations nearly a century and a half later, always taken at the same time of year, often at the same hour of the day. Huddleston’s diptychs challenge the ways in which we as Americans remember and honor the past, the meaning of place in American culture, and the evolving legacy of the Civil War in our national consciousness.

For this commission, Huddleston joined an archival image from the extensive holdings of the UM Bentley Historical Library with a new contemporary landscape photograph by him related to the Bentley image. The subject of the archival photograph, Ann Arborite Conrad Noll (1836–1925), served as a sergeant with Company D of the 20th Michigan Infantry. During his three-year tour he participated in some of the bloodiest battles of the war, including the fall of Vicksburg and the battles of Knoxville, Spotsylvania, and the Wilderness. For his heroic actions at Spotsylvania, Noll was awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor. He died at the age of 89 and is buried in Ann Arbor’s Fair Lawn Cemetery.

Portraits of Civil War soldiers proliferated as a result of the quick and inexpensive tintype photographic process, which was introduced in the 1850s and became popular with itinerant photographers who traveled the country.

Huddleston’s contemporary panorama is divided horizontally between gray sky and a verdant swell of field ringed by a phalanx of trees. Smoke, dust, or exhaust at center interrupts the serenity and trails off to the right, reminiscent of gunpowder. No sign remains of a hard-fought battle or the souls who were lost.