Image
A portrait painting of President George Washington

George Washington (1732–1799),
ca. 1800, Gilbert Stuart

“I see it as the start of a conversation,” says Lisa Crossman, curator of American art and arts of the Americas at Amherst’s Mead Art Museum. She’s talking about her first Mead exhibition, Founding Narratives. It displays art from the Mead collection made in the United States between 1800 and today: an iconic presidential portrait, arresting landscapes, a representation of the U.S. flag based on brown skin tones. Crossman hopes viewers will consider each work for the stories the artist may have intended to tell and for those told by others over time. Founding Narratives critically considers the boundaries that have defined “American” art, both in general and at the Mead, and Crossman intends it to be the first of many Mead shows to present “more diverse and inclusive stories about art produced in the United States.” She says: “I look forward to continuing the dialogue.” Created with intern Maya Foster ’23, the exhibition will be on view spring semester for those on campus and is available virtually to all.


Right: GWB [George Washington Bridge], 1973, Lee Norman Friedlander; Left: Peaceable Kingdom, ca. 1822–25, Edward Hicks

In focusing on the railing and cables of the George Washington Bridge, Friedlander “emphasizes the everydayness of the structure over its symbolic naming,” reads the exhibition label. The Hicks work shows Virginia’s Natural Bridge, which (according to the exhibition label) “symbolized divine greatness—a stone canopy over the supposed peaceful agreement made between William Penn and the Lenni Lenape tribe.”

Portraits and landscapes have been “central to the crafting and articulation of national narratives,” Crossman says.

Maiden’s Rock, Lake Pepin, 1862, Robert Seldon Duncanson
Image
A modern, collage painting of a black woman in a rocking chair

Sojourner Truth, 2002, Richard Yarde

The works above and to the right are by Black artists and depict Black people. Duncanson was a preeminent Midwestern landscape painter. Unlike most landscapes of its era, this one shows a Black man, leisurely adrift in the boat. Truth copyrighted her own image in small prints that she used “to promote and raise money for her causes,” says the exhibition label, including slavery’s abolition. Yarde’s print is based on one such work.


Image
A painting of a colorful bird in a jungle setting

Red-tailed Comet (Hummingbird) in the Andes, ca. 1883, Martin Johnson Heade

Nineteenth-century artists “often aided scientists and industrialists by depicting ‘new’ lands and resources and collecting and picturing plant and animal specimens,” the exhibition label explains. “While Heade was interested in science and traveled to South and Central America in the 1860s and 1870s, his artistic vision took precedence.” This work is “symbolic rather than a scene he would have likely observed in nature.”

———

“The show invites viewers to consider each artwork in dialogue with the others on view.”


Drawing of Coal Strata, 1828–1840, Orra White Hitchcock
Image
A muted-color painting of a woman wearing a dress leaning on a window

She’s Going, 1944, Yasuo Kuniyoshi

In 1948 Kuniyoshi, an immigrant born in Japan, became the first living artist to receive a solo show at the Whitney Museum of American Art. In 2018 Hitchcock had her first exhibition on a national stage, at the American Folk Art Museum. Hitchcock was one of the first female scientific illustrators in the United States. Coal Strata was a classroom drawing for her husband, Edward Hitchcock, Amherst’s third president.


Left, Daniel Boone at His Cabin at Great Osage Lake, 1826, Thomas Cole; Right: Mt. Rushmore, 1969, Lee Norman Friedlander
Image
A piece of cloth with names written in cursive writing

 Untitled, 2001
Deborah Dancy

Cole’s painting embodies his conservationist beliefs, the exhibition label says, and  “represents Boone as an elderly pioneer, already mythologized for exploits that were buoyed by” denying the histories and presence of Native Americans already living on the land. The Dancy print is inspired by the African Burial Ground National Monument in Manhattan, the earliest and largest known cemetery for African-Americans, dating from the mid-1630s to 1795.

———

Go to amherst.edu/mead to view these and other works from the exhibition, to take a virtual tour of the galleries, to read the complete credit information, and, later this winter, to watch a video interview with June Edmonds.


Image
A vertical portrait painting of different colors that resemble an abstract flag

Convictions VI, from Flag Series, 2020, June Edmonds

This representation of the U.S. flag is composed of colors based on Black and brown skin tones. “Edmonds opens possibilities for new readings of the flag,” Crossman says. This and other contemporary works in the show offer “a way to think about how art and discourse about art have changed over time, and to amplify Black, brown and Indigenous voices,” Crossman adds. What is American? What are our shared values? “The artworks bring up those questions.”

———

The abstract flag painting is a new acquisition for the Mead. Its vertical orientation suggests a portrait.