A thought-provoking photography exhibition at a New Jersey museum invites the public to reflect on and honor all the brave individuals who gave their lives in service of the country.
Through a collection of 21 large-scale photographs and a compelling clip from a New Jersey PBS episode, the Morris Museum, founded in 1913 and the only Smithsonian affiliate in the state, commemorates the initial sacrifices during the Revolutionary War – a price that continues to be paid in subsequent battles for liberty.
The At Home With George exhibition presents contemporary fine art photographs of Washington’s military headquarters at the Ford Mansion, the site of the nation’s first historical park established by Congress and President Herbert Hoover within the National Park System.
“As we approach Memorial Day on May 29th and Independence Day on July 4th, my photographs aim to not only highlight the natural connection between General Washington and these significant dates but also pay tribute to the often-overlooked men and women who lost their lives or endured extreme hardship through the decades in the fight for freedom,” explains Xiomaro, the artist commissioned by the National Park Service over five years to create the first and only artistic photographic collection of Morristown National Historical Park.
The thread recognizing these sacrifices emerged in 1971 when Decoration Day, originally observed in remembrance of Civil War soldiers, was expanded and renamed Memorial Day to honor all fallen U.S. military heroes.
Xiomaro’s photographs poignantly and dramatically contrast the varying hardships experienced depending on the chain of command and societal structures of the colonial era. One of the striking images on view reveals Theodosia Ford’s bedroom, repurposed as sleeping quarters for Washington and his wife, Martha. Theodosia was a widow who selflessly offered her home as a military headquarters. She chose to sleep in the dining room with her daughter while her three boys were cramped in the library. Another photograph showcases a small room where Washington’s aides and visiting dignitaries squeezed onto narrow cots.
While these accommodations were spartan, the rank-and-file soldiers encamped in nearby Jockey Hollow faced the harshest conditions. A rare close-up unveils the rustic interior of a reproduction log hut that housed up to 12 soldiers within a claustrophobic space measuring only 14 feet by 16 feet. Yet another photograph of a hut, set in the snow, captures the life-threatening conditions suffered during one of the most severe winters of the century.
“Xiomaro’s photography is distinctive. His images are composed from unique vantage points typically unseen by the public while his use of natural light captures the experience of living in the 1700s, where interior spaces were often dimly lit,” explains Anne Ricculli, Ph.D., the Director of Exhibits and Collections who curated the exhibition with the support of Curatorial Interns Emily Rainbolt, Elizabeth Shack, and Jamie Zurek. The collection, with more than half never being printed and publicly exhibited, is uniquely displayed in the Bush-Compton Gallery with subdued lighting suggesting a period-appropriate candlelight ambiance. “As if walking into a dark room, the viewer’s eyesight must adjust to see all the details.”
For the past 12 years, Xiomaro (pronounced SEE-oh-MAH-ro) has specialized in photographing iconic historical sites to raise awareness of their history, culture, and natural beauty. He is the author of Weir Farm National Historic Site (Arcadia Publishing) with a foreword by Senator Joseph Lieberman. The artist’s work has been exhibited at Harvard University as well as in museums and galleries across the United States, Scotland, and Italy. Xiomaro frequently appears as a guest on mainstream television news outlets, including ABC, CBS, and News 12. A rock musician, he turned to art photography after recovering from cancer, which prompted his departure from a career as an entertainment attorney representing Village People and other celebrity recording artists. To symbolize the transformative experience and to acknowledge his Cuban and Puerto Rican roots, he adopted the pseudonym “Xiomaro,” said to mean “ready for battle.”
At Home With George is on view now until July 30, 2023, at Morris Museum, 6 Normandy Heights Road, Morristown, New Jersey, with support provided by The Martin Guitar Charitable Foundation.