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Berkeley Art Museum's last major exhibition in its current building spotlights American Folk Art
View of Providence, Rhode Island, 1825; oil on wood panel; 28 x 29 in.; gift of Bliss Carnochan.


BERKELEY, CA.- The University of California, Berkeley Art Museum and Pacific Film Archive presents American Wonder: Folk Art from the Collection, on view October 1 through December 21, 2014. Featuring approximately fifty portraits, landscapes, weather vanes, decorative sculptures, and other works dating from the wake of the Declaration of Independence War to the end of the Civil War, this exhibition captures glimpses of young America during a period of boundless optimism, massive growth, and eventual upheaval. This distinguished collection at BAM/PFA—one of the most impressive American folk art collections from this period anywhere—results from the generosity of two collectors and patrons, Bliss Carnochan and Nancy Edebo. American Wonder is the last major art exhibition to open in BAM/PFA’s current museum building at 2626 Bancroft Way before the institution moves to a new location, currently under construction, in downtown Berkeley in early 2016.

American Wonder starts in late eighteenth- and early nineteenth-century New England, where the country’s newly independent citizens were beginning to help define and assume a national identity—one aligned with the goals of liberty, self-improvement, and advancement. Itinerant artists and skilled craftsman created art that captures this formative moment in American history. In the immediate years following independence, painted portraits were in high demand, to identify individuals, establish family legacy, and to boast personal and/or civic achievement. Artists from this period often traveled from one town to another, following signals of new prosperity and growth. Enterprising artists placed ads in local newspapers, emphasizing their skills in creating true likenesses of their sitters.

One such artist was the deaf painter John Brewster, Jr. who travelled and worked in coastal centers and rural towns from Maine to New York. Brewster is known to have painted a number of portraits in and around Salem, Massachusetts, an important shipping, commercial, and artistic center. Brewster’s Boy in Green (c. 1805–1810) is thought to be a portrait of Samuel Field McIntire, who grew up to become a furniture maker and architectural carver in Salem. His father, Samuel McIntire, referred to as “the architect of Salem,” designed some of the most important Federal style buildings in the region. In Boy in Green young McIntire is dressed in a smartly styled green suit. With book in hand, he stands stiffly on a rose-and-gold, geometrically patterned floor (the vibrant floor covering attesting to the fashionable taste and means of the McIntires). Brewster’s greatest attention is to the boy’s facial features, characteristics that would identify him to his contemporaries as Samuel Field McIntire, poised to move into adulthood and professional life.

American Wonder also includes a number of landscapes, ranging from pastoral scenes to views of industrial progress. Like McIntire’s Salem, Providence, Rhode Island, grew out of early maritime trade. View of Providence, Rhode Island, created in the 1820s by an unidentified artist, functions as a portrait of the harbor city, on the brink of transition from a fishing village to a bustling center of commerce. Narrated by means of architecture rather than people and activities, this compact panorama of structures along South Water Street unfolds from old to new as Providence shifted from sea trade to manufacturing industries. 


With remarkable beauty and formal simplicity, the works of art in American Wonder vividly captures a burgeoning nation during a time of enormous change.





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October 3, 2014

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