The Stars And Stripes Forever

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Unlike many other flags, which evolved long after the character of their nations was established, the American flag was born with the Revolution, and few if any national emblems have inspired the veneration we accord it. We salute the flag, pledge allegiance to it, fly it from our humblest homes and from our tallest buildings. We lavish it with affectionate epithets—Old Glory, the Stars and Stripes, the Grand Old Flag, the Red, White, and Blue—and we even set aside a national holiday in its honor. No other device—be it the eagle, the Liberty Bell, or Uncle Sam—evokes the feelings the flag does. Symbols are a shorthand method of telling a complicated story, and our flag immediately calls to mind the struggle of the thirteen original colonies united in the common cause of freedom. “When I think of the flag,” Woodrow Wilson said, “… I see alternate strips of parchment upon which are written the rights of liberty and justice, and stripes of blood to vindicate those rights, and then, in the corner, a prediction of the blue serene into which every nation may swim which stands for these great things.” Such reverence is akin to religion, and so it is not surprising that the flag has played an important part in American art. For two hundred years artists have employed the flag, or its elements, as a motif to signify loyalty, sacrifice, heroism, and other sentiments connected with patriotism. With this phenomenon in mind the Allentown Art Museum, in Allentown, Pennsylvania, will open this month a five-month-long bicentennial exhibition organized by its director, Richard N. Gregg, and entitled “The American Flag in the Art of Our Country.” The exhibition consists of a hundred and thirty paintings, drawings, prints, sculpture, and decorative works by nearly ninety artists—a sampling of which A MERICAN H ERITAGE is pleased to present on these and the following pages. The use of the flag in these illustrations recalls Senator George Frisbie Hoar’s words in 1878: “Beautiful as a flower to those who love it, terrible as a meteor to those who hate it, it is the symbol of the power and glory, and the honor, of… Americans.”

N.B.