Mourning Becomes America

News presents briefs about current and forthcoming programs, events, exhibits and activities of historical and cultural institutions in Pennsylvania.

The Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission will sponsor a Bicentennial exhibit of mourning art beginning with the art of the fashionable people in the late eighteenth century and concluding with the naive expressions in watercolor, paper, and silhouette in the mid­-nineteenth century. The exhibit opens March 28 [1976] at the William Penn Memorial Museum and will continue through May 27 [1976]. It will re-open at the Albany Institute of History and Art in Albany, New York, June 1-July 15 [1976].

The exhibit centers on the imaginary landscape picture in silk and paint inspired by the death of George Washing­ton, and found so often in Pennsylvania. It also includes mourning paintings in oil and on ivory, Liverpool-printed memorials on cream-coloured wares, painted porcelains, jewelry, silver, samplers, glass, prints and cotton textiles. Two thousand years of cultural history are reflected in this unique American art form which continues to cast its light on artists’ practices, the education of women, the influences of religion and the remarkable union of professional and amateur working together.

The exhibit includes work from twenty-six museums and historical societies, including Albany Institute of History and Art; Abby Aldrich Rockefeller Folk Art Collection; Art Museum. Princeton University; Cooper-Hewitt Museum of Decorative Arts and Design; Essex Institute; Moravian Museum; Museum of the City of New York; Newark Museum; North Carolina Museum of History; Old Salem; Old Stur­bridge Village; Pennsylvania Farm Museum; Philadelphia Mu­seum of Art; Smithsonian Institution; Valentine Museum; Webb-Deane-Stevens Museum; William Penn Memorial Mu­seum; Worcester Museum; and the historical societies of Pennsylvania, York County, Litchfield, Maryland, New York, Rhode Island, Linden Hall Seminary, Mount Vernon Ladies Association and Old Fort #4. In addition, there are twenty-seven private collectors and dealers exhibiting.

The eighty-page catalog has a text researched and prepared by Commissioner Anita Schorsch, tracing the origin of mourning art in concept and design. The ancient and Christian influences in neo-classical Europe resulted in this orna­mental art for new America. Although twentieth century Americans have turned away from ornament, as well as death, the new American of 1800 found the subjects as beautiful as they were virtuous, as spiritual as they were patriotic and as new as they were ancient. The illustrated catalog includes seventy-five black and white illustrations and eight color plates. Pre-paid orders for the catalog at $5.95 with 75 cents postage may be sent to the Museum Shop, William Penn Memorial Museum. Box 1026, Harrisburg 17120.


Anita Schorsch is a member of the PHMC