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Red, White, and Blue: American Patriotic Images

July 4 ­ October 26, 2003

 

A new exhibition showcasing patriotic themes in American fine, folk, and decorative arts from the late 18th through early 20th centuries is on view July 4 ­ October 26, 2003 at Shelburne Museum. Red, White, and Blue: American Patriotic Images is installed in the recently renovated Stagecoach Inn Gallery and combines 50 examples of distinctly patriotic imagery from the museum's holdings of paintings, decorative arts, textiles, folk art sculpture, trade signs, toys, and utilitarian objects. (right: Fish with Flag, Trade sign fragment, Maker unknown, Found in upstate New York, Mid-19th century, Painted wood and sheet iron, H: 34"; W: 61"; D: 1" - The fish and flag were likely part of a trade sign for an inn or tavern)

Shelburne Museum's collections of art, architecture, and Americana are in and of themselves documents of evolving American aesthetics from the settlement era to the mid 20th-century, but some pieces are more pointedly celebratory of national pride than others. Potent symbols such as eagles, American flags, the "liberty" icon, and leaders including George Washington and Abraham Lincoln are consistently present in artistic mediums as disparate as scrimshaw (carved whale's tooth), oil paintings, and porcelain. In addition to works of fine and decorative art, Red, White, and Blue also includes a charming array of artifacts originally created with strictly utilitarian purposes in mind: coins, razors, flasks, hatboxes, and penny banks for example. Common to each piece in the exhibition, whether a complete artistic expression or the embellishment of an everyday object, is imagery celebrating American identity and patriotism.

Highlights of Red, White, and Blue include:

Penn's Treaty with the Indians (about 1840), an oil painting by Edward Hicks (1780 - 1849). The painting depicts the scene of a compromise reached in 1681 between William Penn and natives of the area that came to be Pennsylvania. This painting is one of nine known versions of the scene painted by Hicks.
 
The "liberty" icon - which originated in France during the French Revolution and was appropriated in the colonies during the American Revolution - represented in a range of formats including embroidery, coins, plates, and weather vanes. Perhaps most notable is a nearly 4-foot high weather vane pattern made in 1849 that was included in the first exhibition, at the Newark (NJ) Museum in 1931, of folk art ever organized at an American art museum.
 
The Revolutionary Soldier carved and painted wooden toy, made in the early 19th-century. The figure, which may have been part of a set, was recognized as an exceptional piece of folk art in the early 20th-century and was cataloged for the Index of American Design. The piece complements an anonymous c. 1775 watercolor also in the exhibition, Officer of the American Revolution.
 
American flags of various periods depicted in quilts, trade signs, hooked rugs, and paintings. Of special note is one of the most striking pieces of folk art in Shelburne Museum's collections, the Fish with Flag trade sign from the mid 19th-century. Fish were often used in trade signs to advertise a tavern, and in this example a brilliantly colored American flag has been added over the fish to draw the viewer's eye.
 
The sculpture George Washington on Horseback, also dated to the mid 19th century, is a superb example of craftsmanship combining painted wood, leather, and brass. The image is of Washington seated on a white horse, and is believed to be inspired by Thomas Sully's famous 1819 painting The Passage of the Delaware.
 
Eagles carved in the late 19th century by the itinerant artist Wilhelm Schimmel. Schimmel was active in central Pennsylvania, where he would trade his work for food or drink. His bird carvings were very expressive, highlighted by heavily textured feathers cross-hatched in a stylized manner. Schimmel's art began to be rediscovered in the 1920s.

Red, White, and Blue is installed in the Stagecoach Inn Gallery, a 1782 house renovated in 2001 - 2002. The exhibition is one of four new exhibitions at Shelburne in 2003, and is organized by Henry Joyce, chief curator at the museum.

 

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