COOPERSTOWN, NY.- The exhibition Of, By, and For the People: The Art of Presidential Elections which features rare folk art created specifically for presidential campaigns of the 19th-century, is on view at the Fenimore Art Museum in the Clark Gallery. The exhibit is guest-curated by Dr. Jeff Pressman.
Folk art from the 1820s through the early twentieth century including paintings, needlework, stoneware, redware, sculpture, and household items are featured. The exhibition is comprised of rare objects - some have not seen the light of day for generations - that have been culled from small historical societies as well as private collections. Pressman emphasizes, " It turns out there is very little of this material still in existence, but what is around tells a great story. The items in this exhibition are the best of the best."
This exhibition emphasizes the fact that academic artists mainly painted portraits of the candidates while folk artists produced art related directly to the election. The election of 1840, in which the incumbent Martin Van Buren squared off against the Hero of Tippecanoe, William Henry Harrison, was perhaps the first modern campaign where candidates used imagery and publicly-displayed works of art to promote runs for election. One of the best known campaign slogans, "Tippecanoe and Tyler, Too" was coined, and considerable campaign ephemera was created.
The exhibition includes uncommon artifacts such as a Van Buren poster, which was carried in a July 4, 1840 political parade in Barre, Massachusetts by townspeople from Templeton supporting William Henry Harrison. It is the finest one-of-a-kind example of political folk art discovered for the exhibition.
The Van Buren poster is great, but more importantly, displaying a previously undiscovered artifact from a small historical society should encourage visitors to seek out and visit smaller museums to find unknown treasures. Its important to encourage small historical societies to investigate what they have to see if there might be a special item among the local artifacts, said Pressman.
"My hope is that people coming to visit will take the time to read the labels, look at the objects and have a better feeling for our history as these objects tell a great story, especially if you take the time to really study them."
The exhibition runs through December 31st, 2008.