In 1985, when the acclaimed television mini-series “North and South” made the world fall in love with Patrick Swayze, a young aspiring artist named Dan Nance fell in love with the Civil War era. “I painted my first painting of the Civil War,” he said. “I was hooked.”
In the following 28 years, Nance turned his passion for painting into his livelihood. The Carolina native and Ballantyne resident is an acclaimed professional artist, known for creating beautiful and historically accurate scenes transporting the viewer to the American Revolution, the Civil War and other seminal moments in history.
Now Nance is reinventing his own artwork to engage audiences in a new way through “Hand Held History,” a series of applications for the iPhone and iPad that bring his paintings to life. The newest is “Gettysburg: Windows in Time,” an app that allows users to view the artist’s images on top of the battlefield landscape where the event occurred. Learn more or download the app at www.handhel dhistory.com.
Hearing stories and thinking in pictures is the start of Nance’s artistic process. He grew up in Ninety Six, S.C., a town with its own historic claim as the first land battle of the American Revolution to happen south of New England, in 1775. As a child, Nance listened to stories of his grandfather, a marine who island-hopped the Pacific, and his uncle, a fighter pilot who was shot down by Nazis and held in a German prison camp..
“I have always had a unique ability to see history,” Nance said. “I could visualize the soldiers and see them coming over the hill.”
Nance’s trademark battle scenes are full of motion and cinematic energy. With “Hand Held History,” viewers can see the painting, read the story behind the depicted scene and even hear the bullets whizzing overhead.
Building upon that function, “Gettysburg: Windows in Time” uses the iPhone camera to lay a scaled-down version of Nance’s painting over a live look at the specific historic site. Looking at and even photographing an old battle landscape in this way gives a unique experience to Civil War enthusiasts and a fresh perspective for history buffs-to-be.
“The best feedback is from young people,” said Nance, who finds the apps to be a visual and efficient way to present historic information in small doses for short attention spans.
As a kid himself, Nance spent a lot of time drawing, but didn’t start painting until 10th grade. His high school art teacher, Terry Balcum, recognized Nance’s ability and helped him focus and hone his craft at South Mecklenburg High School. While there, Nance won first place in a national talent search for painting and fine art.
From painting, Nance branched out into making films. “I loved the video camera and wanted to be the next Spielberg,” he said. As a senior, he directed a 16mm film on the Civil War called “Soldier vs. Soldier,” about a Southern troop caught in a sniper fight across a long battlefield who meets an unlikely enemy in his own brother. This creativity won Nance a scholarship to the Pratt Institute in New York where he graduated in film.
Nance moved to Wilmington to try and break into the film scene there, but finding work was tough. “I started painting portraits of anything to pay the bills,” he said. What he intended to be a stopgap took off and “became a more lucrative thing than anything I had ever done,” he said. He moved to Charlotte and the rest is “Hand Held History.”
It took Nance a total of three years to develop the “Gettysburg: Windows in Time” app, which he launched for the 150th anniversary of the Battle of Gettysburg – the turning point of the Civil War and the site of President Lincoln’s famed address. The celebration for the 150th anniversary has drawn record crowds to Pennsylvania, with special events, tours and huge reenactments that feature thousands of participants.
“My vision is to put (history) in front of you in a unique way,” said Nance, who is currently in Gettysburg to promote “Windows in Time” amongst the stiff competition of 30 other apps. “In the age of pioneering virtual tourism, I hoped no one else would hit it before I did.”
What did the Gettysburg crowd think of Nance’s app? The devil is in the details. Find out more in next week’s South Charlotte Weekly.