Current Exhibitions

AHA Staff, May 1991

Editors' Note: Periodically this column lists significant historical exhibitions and museum events nationwide. To facilitate this process, the editors would appreciate receiving notices, publications, and press releases that detail current exhibits or museum gatherings. Please forward all correspondence and appropriate materials to: Exhibits and Interpretive Program column, Perspectives, 400 A St., SE, Washington, DC 20003.

"A House Divided: America in the Age of Lincoln," Chicago Historical Society, Chicago. Continuing indefinitely.

Drawing on the rich collections of the Society, "A House Divided" explores the political and social forces that shaped the character and conditions of mid-nineteenth century America. The exhibition examines pivotal issues such as the institution of slavery, territorial expansion, sectionalism, and the impact and legacy of the Civil War. Curated by Eric Foner, Columbia University, and Olivia Mahoney, Chicago Historical Society, the 3,600 square foot exhibit contains over 600 objects. Among the important educational elements that undergird the exhibit is the "living history" portrayal of Frederick Douglass. This excellent presentation represents a marriage of the best of museum and academic scholarship.

"Finding Philadelphia: Making and Collecting an American Past." The Historical Society of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia. Continuing indefinitely.

This exhibit interprets the rich history of Philadelphia from the arrival of the Quakers in the late seventeenth century to the early twentieth century. Exploring the region's past through a multicultural prism, the exhibition examines an array of diverse themes, including the reform impulse in American life; and defining and maintaining democratic institutions. Another of the exhibition's goals is to provide visitors with an opportunity to understand the history of collecting at the Society, the changing nature of collecting, and how this process ultimately shapes our notions of the past. The interpretive posture of "Finding Philadelphia" is enriched by an imaginative use of audio-visual presentations. For example, a unique interactive video display allows visitors to "travel" through many of Philadelphia's neighborhoods in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century while seated in an area that replicates a trolley car of the period.

"Greene and Greene and the American Arts and Crafts Movement," Huntington Library, San Marino, California. Continuing indefinitely.

Drawing primarily from the Huntington's collections, this exhibition explores the careers of California architects Charles and Henry Greene and their significant impact on the American Arts and Crafts Movement. Using furniture, drawings, decorative objects, and paintings, the exhibition argues that the Greenes broke dramatically from architectural traditions at the turn of the century. As craftsmen and later as architects, their knowledge of construction and craftsmanship as well as their passion for workmanship led the brothers to reject tradition and historicism. As a result they produced buildings and furnishings unsurpassed in design and quality.

"Pat-Riots to Patriots: American Irish in Caricature and Comic Art," Michigan Traditional Arts Program Traveling Exhibition Service, Michigan State University Museum, East Lansing.

This exhibition provides important insight into the process of assimilation and self definition among nineteenth-century immigrants. From the early 1800s until the 1930s, Catholic immigrants were often the subjects for artists and satirists. Stereotyped throughout the nineteenth century, the cartoon figures of Bridget and Paddie gradually became respectable and contributing members of the working class. Winsome colleens and protective policemen replaced the washerwoman and the Irish drunkard in magazine and newspaper images. The 135 caricatures and cartoons in this exhibition explore this transition by examining how and why these critical ethnic and religious stereotypes were transformed into images that Irish Americans both accepted and promoted.

"The West as America: Reinterpreting Images of the Frontier, 1820–1920," The National Museum of American Art, Washington, DC, March–July 1991.

"The West as America" attempts to bring the perspectives of history and the stimulating interpretations of the "new" western history to bear in order to shed new light on the often explored imagery of the U.S. West. Using 164 paintings, sculptures, graphics, and photographs by prominent artists of the West such as Remington, Catlin, and Bingham, this exhibition seeks to explore and explode the myths and misperceptions engendered by these images of expansion and frontier. Visitors leave this exhibition with new appreciation, or at the very least greater understanding, of the meaning and manifestations of Manifest Destiny.

Additional Exhibitions

"Mermaids, Mummies, and Mastodons: The Evolution of the American Museum," Baltimore City Life Museums, Baltimore. December 1990-June 1992. The exhibition, along with a catalogue and public programs, examines museums as places of learning and entertainment in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries.

"Images of Penance, Images of Mercy: Santos and Ceremonies of the Hispanic Southwest, 1860–1910," Colorado Springs Fine Arts Center, Colorado Springs. March 1991–July 14, 1991. Walters Art Gallery, Baltimore, Maryland, August 25, 1991–October 20, 1991. An important exhibition that adds to our knowledge of Hispanic folk culture by exploring the importance of Santos, folk religious images, in New Mexico and Colorado from 1865–1910.

"The Working People of Richmond: Life and Labor in an Industrial City, 1865–1920," The Valentine Museum, Richmond, Virginia. April 1991–October 1991. Another of the Valentine Museum's "Works in Progress" exhibitions. This presentation explores the history of working people in a southern industrial city during the later nineteenth and early twentieth century.

"Selling the Goods: Origins of American Advertising, 1840–1940," The Strong Museum, Rochester, New York. October 1990–October 1993. This exhibition along with ancillary educational programming explores a century of American advertising history.

"Americans on Vacation: The History of Vacationing in America, 1820–Present," Henry Ford Museum and Greenfield Village. May 1990–September 1991. Americans have had a love affair with vacations for nearly two centuries. Yet the types of suitable amusements, the class and ethnic considerations, and the importance of leisure activities have changed significantly during this period. "Americans on Vacation" exhibition seeks to chronicle and analyze this evolution.

"A City Comes of Age: Chicago in the 1890s," Chicago Historical Society, Chicago. October 1990–July 1991. This exhibition analyzes the process of urbanization in the late nineteenth century by chronicling Chicago's emergence as a metropolis in the 1890s.