The last days of the Civil War are explored in a Farmville photography exhibition by a Longwood University faculty member who used an unconventional technique.

The works in Michael Mergen’s "Inscribed Landscapes: 150 Years After the Civil War" are wax rubbings of Lee’s Retreat historical markers on large-scale (32 inches by 44 inches) photographic prints of the countryside near each sign. The exhibition, currently at j fergeson gallery, 311 N. Main St., features 16 of what he calls crayon over archival pigment prints.

"This is a way of reconsidering, of retextualizing, history," said Mergen, a Farmville-based artist who teaches photography in Longwood’s Department of Art, Theatre, and Graphic and Animation Design.

Mergen, whose photography often focuses on the political and civic nature of the United States, said he "couldn’t help but notice" the signs tracing Lee’s Retreat route from Petersburg to Appomattox Courthouse on his first visit to Longwood in 2011.

"The language in the signs [erected 1929-2002] changed over time, so history changes. You can see the malleability of history—it’s not set in stone. The early signs said things like ‘Lee fought gallantly,’ while the later ones were more factual, more dry."

After photographing the area around each marker, Mergen made a print on his department’s inkjet printer, then took the print to the sign and, using spring clamps, clamped it to the sign and made a rubbing with a wax crayon.

"This is a new process for me," said Mergen, adding that he has never seen a photographer do this. "As photographers, we rarely go back to the place we visited. It’s kind of a binary system—photo and text. It’s been fun."

The works in the exhibition, which are for sale, are from a series of 27 prints. Mergen did the photography last fall and the rubbings early this year. His photographic work has been featured in numerous publications, including Harper’s, Timemagazine’s LightBox and Slate, and he has exhibited nationally and internationally.

The exhibition, which runs through April 30, with an artist reception Saturday, April 4, from 5-8 p.m., is one of several ways in which Longwood is commemorating the 150th anniversary of the end of the Civil War.

Longwood and the Civil War

  • Longwood physics professor Dr. Chuck Ross, an expert on the Civil War’s science and technology, will appear as a guest April 7 and-or April 14 on The History Channel series "Blood and Glory: The Civil War in Color," which airs from 9-11 p.m.
  • Ross will speak April 7 at 3:30 p.m. in Longwood’s Greenwood Library atrium on "Black Powder and the Cannon’s Roar."
  • He has been one of three faculty members in Longwood’s weekly Civil War podcast series, which began in November 2010 and will end the last week in April after 238 episodes.
  • Longwood hosted the 9th annual Civil War Seminar, which was broadcast on C-SPAN. Watch presentations from the noted scholars at

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