This week we gather together for barbecues, fireworks, and singing the national anthem. One featured item in these celebrations is the American flag. Central to our nation’s history, culture, and identity, the flag can be found on decorative items today ranging from t-shirts to paper napkins to cakes. Using the flag as a decorative element on consumer goods is not a new practice. Soon after the United States officially became an independent nation, the American flag appeared on maps, ceramics, and other goods sold to and seen by Americans.
Winterthur’s current exhibit, Common Destinations: Maps in the American Experience, features one such group of goods. The 1783 map by John Wallis, The United States of America, was one of the first published in Europe to recognize the new nation’s independence.
It connected with American citizens on three levels—offering visual proof that the nation was real; linking the nation’s outline to the symbol of the American flag; and introducing two national heroes into the iconography of eighteenth-century cartouches. Using the likenesses of George Washington (paired with the figure of Liberty) and Benjamin Franklin (paired with Wisdom and Justice), the Wallis cartouche quickly became a model for innovative transfer printings. Everyday objects such as milk jugs and scarves presented a combination of the nation’s map and the Wallis cartouche in celebration of American independence.
Another mapmaker, Abel Buell, created the first map printed in America in 1784, A New and Correct Map of the United States of North America Layd Down from the Latest Observations and Best Authorities Agreeable to the Peace of 1783. Winterthur does not own a copy of this quite rare map. Until 2011 when they received a loan from a private collector, the Library of Congress did not even have a copy of the Buell map to display. www.loc.gov/rr/geogmap/buellmap.html
As you eat your flag-shaped foods and proudly wear you flag-themed garb this Fourth of July, rest assured that you are taking part in yet another all-American tradition of celebrating the stars and stripes!
FREE ON THE FOURTH! Winterthur will be open to the public and will offer free general admission on July 4. http://www.winterthur.org/?p=1048
Post by: Catharine Dann Roeber, PhD, curatorial intern at Winterthur Museum.