About the Exhibit

About the Becker Collection

In 1900 Joseph Becker retired from his career, which had spanned four decades at Frank Leslie’s Illustrated Newspaper (Leslie’s) and its related publications—first as errand boy, then artist-reporter, and later art department director. When he left the publisher’s offices in New York City, he took with him nearly seven hundred original drawings, which he and other artist-reporters, often called Special Artists, had produced since the 1860s as source material for the illustrations that accompanied news stories Leslie’s published. Some of the drawings that Becker chose to save had been used to create wood engravings, which were cast into metal plates then printed in the newspaper.  Others were never published. These drawings—an archive of visual evidence of some of the most tumultuous events in American history—passed from the public to the private sphere and for a century lay all but forgotten among the possessions of Becker’s heirs. Now, for the first time, the drawings in the Becker Collection are available to the public to enjoy as works of art and to study as sources of information through this website, the Becker Collection website, and the First Hand: Civil War Era Drawings from the Becker Collection exhibition and catalogue.

About the Exhibition

As we prepare to mark the war's sesquicentennial, the Civil War drawings in the Becker Collection cast a new light on the dramatic events that divided and defined a nation. As is expected, the drawings record significant battles and leaders but also offer a new window onto the social customs, cultural landscape, and built environment that existed in and around the war. Given the atrocities that were committed on both sides and the terrible human cost of a conflict that left more than six hundred twenty thousand Americans dead, it is easy to overlook the activities that defined the living. Many of the works of art in this exhibition tell the hidden histories of life during the war: the pacifist stance of the all but forgotten Dunkards, the wartime service of contrabands, horseracing in the snow at an army camp, and the celebration of Thanksgiving. Images of the chaos and bloodshed at Shiloh and burying of the dead at Petersburg are shown next to works illustrating African Americans at a worship service and Fourth of July ceremonies. The Becker Collection not only documents how the war was waged but also reminds us why it was fought. 

FirstHand  is co-curated by Judy Bookbinder and Sheila Gallagher from the Department of Fine Arts at Boston College. The exhibition was organized and premiered at the McMullen Museum at Boston College. 



Faulconer Gallery at Grinnell College
August 30 - October 14, 2012
Grinnell, Iowa

Mitchell Gallery at St. John’s College
October 28 - December 12, 2012
Annapolis, MD

Cooley Gallery at Reed College
February 5 - April 20, 2013
Portland, OR

Trout Gallery at Dickinson College
June 7 - October, 19 2013 
Carlisle, PA

Frick Art and Historical Center 
November 09, 2013 - January 12, 2014
Pittsburgh, PA

Robert Hull Fleming Museum at U of Vermont
September 16 - December 12, 2014
Burlington, Vermont

Mississippi Museum of Art
January - April 2015 (exact dates TBD)
Jackson, MS

Massillon Museum
June 13 – August 16, 2015
Massillon, OH

Lauren Rogers Museum of Art
September 6 - November 15, 2015 
Laurel, MS     



University of Texas Tech
June 15 - August 15, 2012 
Lubbock, TX

Virginia Museum of Fine Arts
January 15 - April 3, 2011
Richmond, VA

Taubman Museum
August 18 - October 16, 2011
Roanoke, VA

Cameron Art Museum
February 3 - May 6, 2012
Wilmington, North Carolina

McMullen Museum of Art
Boston College 
September 5-December 13, 2009
Chestnut Hill, MA

Saint-Gaudens National Historic Site
Official National Park Service site. 
Cornish, NH


Arrangements for the "Civil War Era Drawings from the Becker Collection" traveling exhibition are made by Curatorial Assistance Traveling Exhibitions.