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Art history

Speed Art Museum offers
premier Revolutionary War exhibit

More than 200 period items
and replicas on display in Louisville

By Helen E. McKinney
Contributing Writer

LOUISIVLLE, Ky. (November 2008) – Encouraged by such men as John Adams and Thomas Jefferson, artist John Trumbull began a series of history paintings in 1786 that would have a lasting effect more than 200 years later. By recording key events associated with the American Revolution, Trumbull set the stage for a new exhibit to be showcased at the Speed Art Museum and collaboration between the museum and the National Society of the Sons of the American Revolution.

War Soldier replicas

Photo by Helen E. Mckinney

Replicas of American Revolutionary
War soldiers are part of the Yale
University Art Gallery exhibit on
display at the Speed Art
Museum in Louisville.

“Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness: American Art from the Yale University Art Gallery” is an exhibit comprised of more than 200 paintings, drawings, prints, photographs, furniture, silver and ceramics from Yale University’s renowned collection of 18th and 19th century American fine and decorative arts. It is “considered to be one of the finest American collections ever created,” said Kirsten Popp, Public Information Associate for the Speed Art Museum.
The exhibit will be at the museum through Jan. 4, 2009 and highlights include works by Winslow Homer, John Singleton Copley, Charles Willson Peale and Thomas Eakins. A magnificent pair of silver candlesticks crafted by Jeremiah Dummer, thought to be the oldest surviving pair of American candlesticks in existence, are included in the exhibit, said Popp. Works of another famous Revolutionary War era silversmith, Paul Revere, will also be on display.
“Trumbull was well known among a certain elite set in the Revolutionary War period,” said Ruth Cloudman, chief curator for the museum. Trumbull was the son of the governor of Connecticut, knew many leaders of the Revolution and was second aide-de-camp to Gen. George Washington. His eight Revolutionary War paintings are included in the exhibition, which have never left the Yale University Art Gallery as a group.
When staff at the Speed Art Museum learned that Yale University Art Gallery was closing for renovation and considering traveling their American collection, they thought it would be a great fit for the Louisville cultural scene.
“It is one of the finest collections of American art in existence,” said Cloudman. “Bringing this extraordinary show to Louisville honors the museum’s mission to bring great art to our communities as the Commonwealth’s No. 1 venue for international art exhibitions.”

Joe Harris

Joe Harris

The Speed Art Museum and the National Society of the Sons of the American Revolution are collaborating through educational programming and joint tours for schoolchildren and adults. “Together these two institutions offer a more complete educational experience, offering unique opportunities for visitors to explore America’s past,” said Popp.
The National Headquarters of the National Society of the Sons of the American Revolution is located at 1000 S. Fourth St. in Louisville. The building also contains a genealogical library and museum gallery complete with many rare artifacts from the colonial period.
Membership in the Sons of the American Revolution requires that one’s lineal descent from a participant on the American side in the Revolution be verified by official documents or valid evidence.
The SAR’s genealogical research library is available at no cost to members of the SAR, and to the public for $3 per day. It is a rich resource for studying family history. One can gain inspiration from the Speed Art Museum exhibit and in turn carry out their own family research for colonial ancestors at the SAR National Headquarters.
The museum gallery of the National Headquarters contains many large reproduction paintings similar to those by Trumbull on display at the Speed Art Museum. Many of the works of art were donated through members, said Colleen Wilson, Director of Education for the SAR Foundation Inc. Other paintings were commissioned and paid for by members of the organization, said Joe Harris, the SAR’s executive director.
In fact, the museum has outgrown its current home and plans to move to a larger facility. In an effort to expand, Wilson said the National Headquarters for the SAR has purchased two buildings on Main Street in Louisville in an area known as Museum Row. A tentative relocation and opening date is 2011 in a building located near the Louisville Slugger and Frazier Arms museums.

George Washington

Photo by Helen E. Mckinney

A portrait of President George Washington
is among the items
featured in the
Revolutionary
War display.

Included for display at the SAR National Headquarters is a Valley Forge Drill Manual, Washington’s seal ring and a 2,000 pound replica of the Liberty Bell. Wilson said 16 United States presidents have been members of the SAR, as well as Winston Churchill and Spain’s King Juan Carlos.
The genealogical library contains 40,000 volumes and manuscripts, with 1,200 volumes of these volumes about Washington. The society was formed in 1889 and carries a strong educational outreach mission.
The SAR has branched out into different ceremonies over the years. These include grave markings and flag retirement ceremonies. Once a year, the SAR holds a naturalization ceremony.
This year’s ceremony was held Friday, Oct. 24, at the Louisville Memorial Auditorium. Last year, more than 40 different countries were represented in this formal ceremony, said Wilson.
Harris said that after such ceremonies and tours of the SAR museum gallery, he hopes visitors will “understand that there was a struggle for independence and that it is this independence, which we, as a nation, enjoy today.” Common and affluent folk alike risked their lives for the cause of freedom, he added.
The struggles associated with the American Revolution “helped design the form of government we have today,” said Harris. It’s based upon things we often take for granted, such as the Bill of Rights, he said.
A trip to the SAR National Headquarters or a visit to the Speed Art Museum’s exhibit will stir up patriotic feelings and reinforce Harris’s point.

• For more information about the Speed Art Museum exhibit, contact Kirsten Popp at (502) 634-2700 or visit: www.speedmuseum.org. For more information on the National Headquarters of the Sons of the American Revolution, call (502) 589-1776 or visit: www.sar.org.

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