TO SHAPE A PAST

In American art, social memory can surface in odd, oblique ways. There is no big commemorative painting--or none of any merit--that shows a battle from the worst trauma in the country's history, the Civil War. In fact, the best Civil War painting doesn't show a war and has only one figure in it. It is The Veteran in a New Field, 1865, by Winslow Homer (1836-1910). In an earlier America, there wasn't even much past to remember; there are no Puritan monuments, for instance, except for individual gravestones. Memory had to be imported. This was very much the point of the...

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