Published: November 12, 2002
SANDWICH, MASS. — Heritage Museums & Gardens, formerly Heritage Plantation, will present an exhibit entitled “Currier & Ives: Images of New England,” which will run from December 7 to February 28. This exhibit presents prints from Heritage Museums’ vast collection of Currier & Ives along with various other Nineteenth Century objects, such as costumes, farm tools, scrimshaw and hunting and fishing ephemera. Merrill Lynch, Hyannis, is generously sponsoring this exhibit.
Through their lithographs, Currier & Ives reflected American taste and attitudes. These prints offer viewers the opportunity to understand how Nineteenth Century Americans perceived themselves. In 1857 Nathaniel Currier and James Merritt Ives formed a partnership and opened their own lithography press in the heart of New York’s “newspaper row.” The business began to flourish and their shop became a meeting place for newsmen and politicians. Currier & Ives fulfilled the increasing demand for decorative colored lithographs that were also inexpensive. Their small folio prints cost only 20 cents and the large folios were reasonably priced from $1.50 to $3. Their large public appeal backed their aim, which was to have their lithographs in the average person’s home, stores, barrooms and even barns, instead of art galleries or museums.
When many people think of Currier & Ives, scenes of New England country life come to mind. After the Civil War, many American artists focused their attention towards New England. These artists, including Currier (originally from Roxbury, Mass.) and Ives, tried to recapture the nostalgia of a country physically and emotionally untouched by war. Their idealization of this era attempted to celebrate the prosperity of a growing nation, instead of concentrating on the reconstruction of the South or the aftermath of the war. Even winter in the country is not viewed as harsh and dangerous time of year, for which there must be arduous preparation, but a delightful time full of sleigh rides and the warm hearth of home.
Currier & Ives published about 350 lithographs featuring farms, villages and the countryside to appeal to those who wanted an image that reminded new urbanites of the country home they left behind.
Outdoor scenes were also fashionable since hunting and fishing were popular activities for men in the 1800s, many of whom viewed it as an escape from the city. In the 1840s hunting-related publications were commanding wide audiences. Many of the scenes depicted were based on real stories from hunting in Maine and the Adirondacks, though it is difficult to determine their exact location. When Currier and Ives were deciding what types of prints would appeal to ordinary male Americans, hunting scenes were an obvious choice.
For the next 50 years the firm released three to four new prints every week and for the first time provided the country with a visual form of mass communication. In more than 72 years of business the firm sold more than 10 million prints of more than 7,000 different titles. Currier & Ives lithographs supply today’s viewer with a cultural perspective into the attitudes and ambitions of a growing nation, just as they had given Nineteenth Century America an nostalgic past after the trauma of the Civil War.
Heritage Museums and Gardens, Grove and Pine Streets, are open from 10 am to 4 pm through April 30. Admission is $12 adults, $10 senior citizens, $6 youths 6to 16, 5 and under and members are free. Recorded information line, 508-888-1222; regular phone, 508-888-3300.
5 Church Hill Road / Newtown, CT 06470
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