St. Paul artist gets in the face of Minnesota's Civil War soldiers

St. Paul artist gets in the face of Minnesota's Civil War soldiers

Despite sharing his home with 76 guys, painter Jay Wittenberg has been lonely the last three years. That's because the men crowding into every room of his home on St. Paul's East Side were members of Minnesota's First Regiment who went off to fight in the Civil War 150 years ago. ΒΆ Wittenberg spent hours every day painting the scowling grimaces, burly muttonchops and piercing eyes of the young Minnesotans who volunteered to fight in the nation's bloodiest battles, including Gettysburg.

Buffalo Soldier, 9th U.S. Cavalry




Buffalo Soldier, 9th U.S. Cavalry


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His 14-by-18-inch oil paintings are on display at the James J. Hill House on Summit Avenue in St. Paul until October. The likenesses have an eerie contemporary quality. The soldiers' eyes seem to follow viewers around the gallery.

"I think about these individuals leaving their homes and loved ones to fight in a horrible war with great chances of getting wounded or killed," he said. "These are not the ruddy cheeks of gung-ho guys who can't wait to get there. These are young men who have seen the horrors."

The son of an antiques dealer mom and banker dad, Wittenberg braided his interests in 19th-century America, the human face and large-scale portrait series. He considers himself lucky after scanning the military yearbooks from his father's years in the Army around 1960. Soldiers of that era were forbidden to have facial hair. So with hats pulled down low, they all tended to look alike. Individuality was frowned upon; soldiers were cogs of a unit.

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