From John Hennessy, NPS. Click image to enlarge.
Though we all love to write, and we like to believe that readers avidly consume our words, the fact is visitors to NPS areas don’t much like to stand in the beating sun and read, no matter how well we craft our prose. A hard reality for history types to accept sometimes is that museum exhibits, wayside exhibits, and even publications must dominantly be graphic mediums. Reading is work, and most people won’t work very hard to get their information. And so, graphics assume an immensely important role in interpretation.
We manage four major battlefields and two other historic sites that would, if they were farther apart, each be their own NPS unit. All told, we have more than 100 wayside exhibits in the field or planned. Each is at a key place, but sometimes the graphic material needed to illuminate a site just isn’t available. When that’s the case, and when the significance of the site warrants an exceptional effort, we will sometimes turn to creating original art to help interpret the landscape or site.
This is pertinent because I received in the mail this morning our newest piece of original art–an aerial view of the Bloody Angle at the height of the fighting on May 12, 1864. This will go on a new wayside exhibit (now in development) along a new segment of trail that will allow visitors to view both the Angle and the swale in front of it, where Union soldiers sought cover for hours that bloody day. The perspective is from right above and behind the exhibit. The Bloody Angle (which is in fact a barely perceptible turn in the works) is marked in this view by the lone oak tree just behind the Confederate works toward the right of the image. The art is by Richard Schlecht, who has done this sort of aerial perspective for the NPS and National Geographic for years. You are the first people to see it, besides a few members of our staff.
I post this not so much to make any immense point, but to share a little bit of the sorts of things we have in the works. We are indeed lucky to be working in the profession we have chosen.