Published: September 9, 2003
“Our Flag,” which will be on display in the transept and rotunda of the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts in Philadelphia until January 4, brings together 22 paintings from the institution’s historic and extensive permanent collection that include some version of the Stars and Stripes. Rather than the usual emphasis on painting technique, the exhibition focuses on the actual depiction of the flag as it changed over the years and how artists used it to punctuate the themes in their works.
As her Australian accent quickly reveals, the show’s curator, Kim Saget, comes from the “land down under,” which gives her a special viewpoint on Americans’ use of their national emblem: “The flag is everywhere in America, much more visible than in my native Australia or anywhere in Europe,” says Saget. Collectors know that any version of the Stars and Stripes on antiques, formal or folk, adds significant dollar value. But the price increase really measures the emotional impact we feel when we see the American flag or shield on a ship’s figurehead, Plains Indian vest or Federal card table.
To help with her presentation of the material, Saget called upon well-known Philadelphia area collector Tom Connelly, who sold 90 examples from his flag collection at Sotheby’s on May 23, 2002. Many of the pieces he assembled over a 15-year period are illustrated in a new book by Sotheby’s Nancy Druckman and flag dealer J. Kenneth Kohn titled American Flags: Designs for a Young Nation (Abrams 2003; $16.95).
Connelly was asked to organize the loan of a few actual flags to illustrate special points in the exhibition, and — more important — to advise Saget on whether the flags in the paintings bore any resemblance to common flags of the period in which they were painted. When the collector began talking to the curator, Saget began to realize that there is a “flag subculture” populated by enthusiasts like Connelly who study every variation and detail.
By Frances McQueeney-Jones Mascolo
NEW YORK CITY — When “American” settlers first ventured westward from the eastern seaboard they were dazzled by the Native American crafts they saw. Smoothly woven baskets and handsome pottery, dramatic carvings, strikingly patterned blankets, beadwork, ornamented articles of clothing and ceremonial objects: they admired it all. From souvenirs to serious collections, American Indian art has long had a universal appeal. A new exhibit, “The Responsive Eye: Ralph T. Coe and the Collecting of American Indian Art” at The Metropolitan Museum of Art, offers visitors a rare opportunity to view one of the most impressive collections in the country. The exhibition runs through December 14.
Coe gathered the 200 objects on view over the last half century. A collector’s collector, Coe made his selections with an eye toward the aesthetic of American Indian art. More than that, Coe has formed his collection keeping in mind the artistic continuation and renewal of Native American forms, spanning millennia and a continent.
The objects on view are all drawn from North American areas and peoples, which encompass 300 nations in widely divergent regions and cultures from the Athapaska and Northwest Coast to the Southwest, the Great Lakes, the Plains, the Prairie and the Northern and Southern Woodlands. They range in age from a 5000-4000 BC banner stone made of shale that was found in Hankakee County, Ill., to a Northwest Coast noble woman’s mask made in 2001 of painted alder, copper, shell inlay and human hair by Haida Robert Davidson.
American Indians never set out to make art; their objects were meant to be used, whether in daily life or for ceremony. When nonnative eyes took a look, however, the objects of Indian daily life became “art.” Accordingly, the debate between art and artifact will seemingly always rage on.
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