A new exhibition showcasing patriotic themes in American fine, folk and decorative arts from the late Eighteenth through early Twentieth Centuries is on view July 4 to October 26 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.
Shelburne Museum’s collections of art, architecture and Americana documents evolving American aesthetics from the settlement era to the mid-Twentieth 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 an 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,” circa 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 weathervanes, is also featured. Perhaps most notable is a nearly four-foot-high weathervane 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 Nineteenth Century, may have been part of a set. It was recognized as an exceptional piece of folk art in the early Twentieth Century and was cataloged for the Index of American Design. The piece complements an anonymous circa 1775 watercolor also in the exhibition, “Officer of the American Revolution.”
American flags of various periods are 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-Nineteenth 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-Nineteenth Century, is an 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 Nineteenth Century by the itinerant artist Wilhelm Schimmel are on view. 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 crosshatched in a stylized manner. Schimmel’s art began to be rediscovered in the 1920s.
The Shelburne Museum is on Route 7. for information, 802-985-3346 or www.shelburnemuseum.org.