Since 1991, John Paul Strain has been painting Civil War pieces, giving Civil War enthusiasts like myself the opportunity to travel back in time to pivotal moments in the War Between the States. Mr. Strain’s work allows the viewer to feel as though they are a part of that moment and experience the emotions of the moment. His work covers several personalities such as Robert E. Lee, JEB Stuart, Nathan Bedford Forrest, Joshua Chamberlain, Stonewall Jackson, and numerous others, as well as several battles. Mr. Strain took some time to answer some questions for me to share, and they may be seen below:
Matt: What drew you to the Civil War and when did you begin using your remarkable talent to express your interest in the Civil War?
John Paul Strain: I have always loved the study of American History. It was my best subject in school. I began painting the American Civil War in 1991.
Matt: .Has your interest in the war and various aspects of it been affected by the paintings that you have done? And if so, in what ways?
John Paul Strain: Yes it was affected to a degree. My art required me to be more focused on the leaders of the war, which gave me the opportunity to study them in great depth.
Matt: You seem to illustrate both the Eastern and Western Theaters fairly equally. Do you have a preference when it comes to being a student of the war, and do you have a preference as an artist?
John Paul Strain: Rather than having a preference for one theater of war or another, I have my favorite commanders who I enjoy painting.
Matt: My favorite piece of yours from the time that I first saw it has been Taking Battery A. This piece makes me feel like I am in the midst of the High Water Mark and really allows the viewer to feel the emotion of the moment. What was your inspiration for this piece, and where does it lie in your list of favorites?
John Paul Strain: I am very pleased about your comment on “Taking Battery A”, because my goal for the piece was to place the viewer into one of the most famous moments of the war. Most of the other art that depicted the high water mark have the figures very small, I wanted to focus on what a soldier there might have witnessed.
I feel it’s the best infantry battle scene I have done.
Matt: Which of your pieces has brought you the most satisfaction or is considered your favorite?
John Paul Strain: That’s hard for me to say. Here are some of the giclees I have in my home.
Fire in the Valley
Shadows of 64
Vengeance at Okalona
Beside Still Waters
Matt: How have you seen your work evolve throughout your career?
John Paul Strain: I think I have improved over the years. With each painting you learn something new, if you are challenging yourself.
Matt: How do you come up with most of your ideas, and how do you typically see that they progress throughout their lifetime? And could you describe the typical process that you go through to complete a piece?
John Paul Strain: Lots of different ways. I try and follow the seasons, so when I release a painting it is the same time of year. For example I always paint a snow scene for Christmas time.
Matt: Clearly, since your works so finely depict a scene, you must do an enormous amount of background work and studying prior to even doing a sketch. So, what do you find that you research the most and pay the most attention to,the landscape detail, the uniforms and accoutrements, or facial features?
John Paul Strain: All the above. If one element is lacking the painting will not be strong.
Matt: I notice that your pieces seems to always focus on a single character, and then allows the scene to form around that character so that the eyes move from the entire scene to the specific individual. Which character do you enjoy painting the most, and why?
John Paul Strain: I love painting the greats.
Matt: If I am correct, you also participate in Civil War reenacting. Which unit, or units, do you participate with, or do you try to portray a specific individual?
John Paul Strain: My cavalry unit is the 7th Texas Cavalry, and my rank is Captain.
Matt: If you could travel back to the Civil War and experience one event, what would it be and why?
John Paul Strain: Probably Chancelorsville, so I could convince Jackson, not push on for a night attack.
Matt: If you could travel back and spend a day with one Civil War personality, who would it be and why?
John Paul Strain: If I was tough enough, I would have like to have rode with General Forrest in his escort. For a cavalry man, there was none better.
Matt: If you could ask one Civil War personality a question, to whom, and what would that question be?
John Paul Strain: I would ask RE Lee why he didn’t give stronger orders for Ewell to take the high ground when the opportunity was there.
I began collecting Civil War art 2 years ago, with the first piece being Mr. Strain’s Taking Battery A. Since then, I have obtained Burnside’s Bridge, Soul of a Lion, and Headquarters Gettysburg, and Remarque portraits of General Lee, General Stonewall Jackson, General Lewis Armistead, General Winfield Scott Hancock, and General JEB Stuart. Mr. Strain’s work can be purchased from his website http://johnpaulstrain.com/ , and from numerous galleries, like King James Gallery in Gettysburg, PA. Debra and Justin, at King James, are great people and I highly recommend stopping in to the gallery located on the square in Downtown Gettysburg.
I’d like to give a big thanks to Mr. Strain for taking time to answer these questions for me. Again, his work can be viewed at http://johnpaulstrain.com/. Do yourself a favor and spend some time looking at these pieces and travel back to those fateful years in the 1860’s.
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