–Don J. Long, illustrator, is a life-long resident of the Tar Heel State. Although he was born in Concord, North Carolina on October 17, 1948, he grew up in Spencer with his mother and father and older brother. His father worked as a boilermaker helper at the now Historic Spencer (Southern Railroad) Shops.
He graduated from North Rowan High School in 1967 and earned an AB degree in history from Catawba College in 1971.
His interest in history runs deep. As a boy, his mother would speak of her grandfather, a Confederate veteran from Cabarrus County who was paroled in Greensboro in May 1865. He enjoyed perusing the history books at the local public library and a set of encyclopedias at home, closely studying their photographs and illustrations of the past, Even today, he still enjoys the relaxation of a quiet moment reading a good book on an historical topic, with or without pictures!
At 14, during the Centennial of the Civil War (1961-1965), he jumped at the chance to join a local Confederate re-enactment unit and first participated as a “soldier” at Antietam, Maryland in 1962 followed by many others on or near important battlefields. In traveling to these various sites with his family he decided he wanted to someday work as a park ranger at a national battlefield.
In 1967 he joined the First Maryland Regiment, a Washington, DC area Revolutionary War living history group dedicated to providing authentic historical programs on the Revolutionary War soldier to the public. During this time he developed the useful and necessary skills of patterning and sewing, usually by hand, of period-type clothing, uniforms, and leather and cloth equipment. As a “private soldier” in this organization he was in company with talented and knowledgeable members whose expertise was quite extensive. The First Maryland performed at numerous historic sites in the eastern United States and in Canada and participated in many Bicentennial events. The highlights of his association with the First Maryland were marching in the January 1973 Inaugural Parade in Washington, and in September 1983 participating in the 200th Anniversary celebration of the 1783 Treaty of Paris in France which included a march, in Continental Army uniform carrying a flintlock musket, to the sound of fifes and drums down the Avenue des Champs-Elysees to the Arc d’Triumpe in Paris and tactical programs at the Chateau de Versailles and the Musee de l’Armee.
Fresh from college in 1971 and having passed the Civil Service examination but without guarantee of the National Park Service career he envisioned, he drove to Greensboro to inquire of an available summer job at Guilford Courthouse National Military Park. His sewing skills and knowledge of the 18th-century military gained serving in the ranks of the First Maryland must have impressed the park staff as he was offered a summer job as a seasonal uniformed employee. He began work at the Revolutionary War battlefield in April 1972 giving talks and interpretive demonstrations to springtime school groups in his First Maryland uniform and later in the summer working together with volunteers he had trained in the Von Steuben drill manual and uniformed in period clothing he had made. When the second seasonal job ended in late 1973 he was hired as a career employee and continued working at the park for the next thirty-three years as a National Park Ranger until his retirement in January 2006. His primary job was the interpretation of the importance of the Battle of Guilford Courthouse (March 15, 1781) and the American Revolution through visitor service contacts, such as talks, conducted programs and demonstrations to park visitors, the latter of which was typically in historic uniform. His other duties included curatorial management and exhibit planning; historical research; document transcription; writing articles and editing publications; historic weapons safety and instruction; supervising the volunteer-in-parks program; and coordinating the visitor center bookstore’s operation with the park’s cooperating association, Eastern National. During his career he received in-service training in historical interpretation, curatorial management, and historical weapons safety. In addition to promotions, he received numerous government employee citations and awards for his service and contributions and from Eastern National for improvements in the park’s bookstore. He happily contributed his artistic skills in providing designs, sketches and illustrations for publications and exhibits for GCHNMP and for other parks and organizations.
His Germanic heritage drives him to doing the best he can with God-given skills and talents. Don began drawing as a child and developed his artistic skills over the years by constantly striving to improve, usually by trial and error, and by reading and studying artistic methods. Without any formal art training, other than a one-semester basic art class in college, he is better adept at drawing with a pen than painting with a brush. He prefers to be known as an illustrator, not have the formal training of an artist and is at his best drawing the uniforms, arms and equipment of the soldier of the past. He enjoys sketching and drawing in both pencil and pen and ink, often to the bemusement of others, on any scrap of paper, including a restaurant napkin. On occasion he will color his pen and ink drawings using either watercolors or color pencils. Having had poor penmanship in grammar school through college, he determined as a young man to improve and has striven for years to develop an acceptable 18th and 19th century “hand” using quill and steel pens, but most often with a humble ballpoint pen.
He was accepted into the Company of Military Historians in 1973 and has provided three illustrations to their Uniforms in America series and is currently (2012) working on a fourth. He is also a member of the Military Vehicle Preservation Association, being qualified by his ownership of a restored 1943 Ford military jeep. His southern heritage and historical interest also qualifies him as a member of the Colonel John Sloan Camp of the Sons of Confederate Veterans.
Don lives in Greensboro and has been happily married for twenty-six years to his wife, Beth, a retired public school teacher. Their son, Tyler, is a senior business major at Appalachian State University in Boone. After retirement from government service, Don has become a successful “house husband”, but with plenty of interesting projects to keep his hands busy. The Longs are active members of Mount Pisgah United Methodist Church.
[The foregoing biography of Don Long was submitted by Sam Hummel, a sponsor of this web site.]