Life and Art in Early America

July 15, 2014 through June 7, 2015
John N. Stern Gallery

Throughout the 19th century, the United States experienced a complex history of discovery and division. For the European emigrant, America was a New Eden, a land of opportunity and freedom. Both painting and photography portray uncharted wilderness as a source of wonder and promise, conveying ideas about the sublime and the religious symbolism of nature. Portraits project the sitters’ aspirations for success in the young nation.

But these achievements did not come without a significant price. Cities and plantations relied largely on the labor of African American slaves. Abolitionists vociferously campaigned against slavery, and many  participated in movements— some violent, others peaceful— to assist runaway and former slaves and promote the abolishment of slavery.

The exhibition includes literary and visual works that reference slavery and abolitionism, two of the many separatist issues that culminated in the American Civil War (1861–65). The AMAM’s recent acquisition, The Present, by Thomas Satterwhite Noble, painted in July 1865—three months after Abraham Lincoln’s assassination and five months prior to ratification of the 13th Amendment—addresses both the hope and trepidation that came with emancipation and Reconstruction.

At the same time, westward expansion ultimately displaced numerous Native American tribal nations. Photographs, artifacts, and visual accounts of Native American customs and historical figures in the exhibition are testaments to their pivotal role in the American story.

Works of representation and commemoration reflect the variety of cultural, racial, and natural landscapes of the United States. They recount the costs and triumphs in the formation and fragmentation of the nation, and highlight the myriad voices that contributed to the narrative of American history during this tumultuous period.

Curated by Andaleeb Badiee Banta, curator of European and American art, and Curatorial Assistant Emma Kimmel (OC 2015).

Related Events:
Tuesday Tea

November 11 at 2:30pm
Carol Lasser, professor of history, Oberlin College, will explore what the Ohio Star Signature Quilt reveals about the culture of early Oberlin. Begun by Sarah Mahan in 1847, the year before she died, and finished by her widowed stepmother in 1851, the quilt is both a map of friendships that knit together the fledgling community and a memorial used in the rituals of mourning in the early American Republic.

Thomas Satterfield Noble (American, 1835 - 1907)
The Present, 1865
Oil on canvas
R.T. Miller Jr. Fund and James K. (OC 1946) and Anne Fassett (OC 1947) Sunshine American Art Fund