Patchwork Primitives


The teasingly familiar scene above is not, as one would suppose, the work of an anonymous nineteenth-century folk artist. It is a painting done in 1951 by none other than the first lady of American folk art, Jean Lipman, who, for over thirty years as the editor of Art in America and author of countless articles and books on the subject, has done more to make folk art “a major chapter in the history of American art” than any other enthusiast of the genre. Read more »

Town & Country

The Smaller, Greener Baltimore of Francis Guy

Sometime in 1799 a luckless British-born artisan “boldly undertook,” in the words of the portraitist Rembrandt Peale, “to be an artist, although he did not know how to draw.” The result of this unprovoked commitment is a delightful series of portraits of the seedtime of a great city. Read more »

Decking Columbia’s Walls

War, patriotism, nature, and changing taste— all have been mirrored in our wallpaper

When George Washington visited Boston in 1789, the new President received a tumultuous greeting. Among the bands of tradesmen who rallied to parade—all patriotically urging the spectators to buy American—was a contingent of local wallpaper printers, bearing a banner emblazoned with the exhortation: “May the fair daughters of Columbia deck them- 4 selves and their walls with J our own manufactures. ” Read more »

Five Minutes To Freedom

The Vigil That Put an End to Slavery

The crowded, torchlit, tension-filled scene above hangs today in the White House room in which Abraham Lincoln affixed his signature to the Emancipation Proclamation—using a gold nib and writing carefully so that no one, seeing a hesitant line, could ever say he had been anything but firm of purpose. “If my name ever goes into history,” he said, “it will be for this act.” Read more »

Warriors’ World

A Cheyenne Self-Portrait


Much of the most glorious of Cheyenne art appears on the lined and paginated leaves of old ledger books. Created by warrior artists in the late nineteenth century, the scenes show victories and events from the days of freedom before the white invasion and continue through the period of conflict that ended in the loss of Cheyenne liberty. By the 1880’s, the vibrant, spirit-filled life depicted by these warrior artists was gone. Read more »

Tribute To A Feathered Tempest

The great swarm of birds on the preceding two pages (a detail of which appears below) was painted by Michigan artist Lewis Luman Cross in 1900. Even at that date, it had to be painted from memory, for by the turn of the century the million-membered flocks of passenger pigeons that once darkened the Midwestern skies had been driven to the edge of extinction by hunters. Fifteen years later they were extinct, the last pigeon dying in a Cincinnati zoo in 1914.Read more »

Vegetable People

In the 1870’s American manufacturers were a long step ahead of the American advertising industry. They were producing goods on a nationwide scale, but there was no national publication in which they could hawk their products. The ingenious solution to this problem was the trade card [see “Trade Cards,” AMERICAN HERITAGE , February, 1967]. With a picture on one side and some persuasive copy on the other, these cards were slipped into packages, handed out in retail stores, and mailed to customers.Read more »

Democracy Delineated

Declaring himself a “thorough democrat” George Caleb Bingham portrayed the American voter with an artist’s eye—and a seasoned politicians savvy

Between 1847 and 1855 George Caleb Bingham completed a half dozen or so canvases that are among the most unusual and interesting documents in the history of American painting. They are well known to students, critics, and art historians but they are only occasionally reproduced in books that celebrate the “finest” American paintings. Others of Bingham’s works are duly included in such selective compilations, for at his best he was a highly competent artist. Read more »

Too Many Philosophers

When Winifred Smith Rieber confidently agreed to paint a group portrait of America’s five pre-eminent philosophers, she had no idea it would be all but impossible even to get them to stay in the same room with one another.

Mother was off again, this time to New England to paint the Harvard philosophy department—all five of its members, and on a single canvas. Mother had known the Harvard philosophers before, but only slightly, when my father had studied under them during his graduate years.Read more »

Liquid Assets

A Texas Pioneer’s Unusual Gift to His City

Henry Rosenberg arrived in Galveston, Texas, in 1843, a nineteen-year-old Swiss fabric apprentice with an eight-dollar-a-week job waiting for him. When he died fifty years later he was a wealthy banker, and had developed considerable feelings of gratitude to the city that had made him rich. Many would-be benefactors consider donating libraries; Rosenberg gave the city a fine one. But he had another idea as well, one which developed into a civic legacy unusual even in a city known for its elaborate architecture.Read more »