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Dimensions (inches): frame - 19.5" x 20", work - 11.5" x 13.5"
This exceptional patriotic scherenschnitte was executed in the style often attributed to Pennsylvania German minister Isaac Stiehly (1800-1869). Scholars now agree that one or more artists, working in New York, were producing their own work in a very similar style. Several examples are known that bear the names of New York and/or New Jersey residents, while two, in particular, include text that celebrates the 1844 New York mayoral election victory of publishing magnate James Harper [founder of what is now Harper Collins], who ran on a ticket sponsored by the American Republican Party, a nativist organization concerned with the loss of American jobs to Irish immigrants.

Note the quality of the cutwork on this example, the centerpiece of which is a large American eagle, gripping a coiled rattlesnake and holding an American flag in its beak. Above, in a lozenge-shaped medallion, the word "Liberty" is executed in large script. To the left and right of this are elaborately decorated ovals, and anchoring each corner of the work are snowflake-like medallions.

To each side of the eagle, and below, is a plethora of flora and fauna, the outermost pillars of which are supported by two urns, decorated with eagles. At the bottom center is a diamond within a heart, with two doves, one of which is offering the other a leaf. Above this there are appear to be crude representations of a gnome and a fairy flanking and urn decorated with another heart, from which grow the vines in the center window. Interlocking rings decorate the border, probably to represent marriage, and it can logically be presumed that the scherenschnitte was a wedding gift.

It is of interest to note that the flag displays both 14 stars and 14 stripes. Although the reason for the use of this count is unknown, on the surface it does appear to be intentional. Other known patriotic scherenschnitte display flags with various star and stripe counts. Of those I have personally owned, the one bore 14 stars and 13 stripes, another 11 stars and 13 stripes, another displayed two flags, including a 12 star flag with 14 stripes and a 14 star jack (a blue naval flag with stars but no stripes), and another, also with 2 flags, displayed a 20 star flag with 16 stripes, accompanied by a Stars & Stripes variant with an eagle in the canton, and what appears to be around 19 stars, 10 of which are prominent and the remainder of which are just dots within a medallion that contained the eagle. Another example, which I believe to have more likely been done by Stiehly himself, displays two eagles with flags that have 15 stars, but an undeterminable number of stripes. Three examples are documented by Deborah Harding in her book "Stars & Stripes: Patriotic Motifs in American Folk Art" (2002, Rizzoili, New York) on pages 240-244. Of these, one has a 10 star flag with 15 stripes, another uses 12 stars and 13 stripes, while the last bears 13 stars and 16 stripes. Judging from this small survey, the counts probably lack any particular meaning and instead merely reflect a decorative addition of the respective elements.

Stiehly, one of the most prolific of all Pennsylvanian scherenschnitte artists, worked in the Mahantango Valley, a small, pocketed area north and generally east of Harrisburg, where some of the state’s most valuable and sought after examples of 19th century folk art have surfaced. He became a Pennsylvania German Reformed pastor in 1824 and served the church and his community until his death in 1869. He appears to have been a proponent of American Republican ideals, not all of which were of questionable moral grounds. Some of the scherenschnitte attributed to him feature the words "Temperance" and "Liberty".

A Jewish Philadelphian by the name of Louis Levin was the editor of two influential newspapers of the 1840's, the "Daily Sun" and the "Temperance Advocate". Because newspapers were the primary means of disseminating information in the period, it may be that Stiehly, in rural Northumberland County, was exposed to the political and moral motivations of Levin's ideology through these papers. In 1852 Levin staged a "bonfire of booze" to draw attention to his campaign against taverns, for example, which would have been right up Stiehly's ally as a leader of a protestant church.

Levin, a nativist, considered himself one of the foremost patriots of his time. According to an article by John A. Forman, entitled "Portrait of an American Demagogue" (American Jewish Archives, October 1960), "The cult of American patriotism was [Levin's] banner. 'I go for everything American in contradistinction to everything foreign,' he loved to say. His one great object was the attainment and preservation of America's 'national character'." Levin or one of his counterparts in the nativist movement may have come in contact with one of Stiehly 's eagle cutwork pictures, which would explain how the art form spread to New York. Major patriotic fraternal organizations with roots in Pennsylvania spread there as well, Among these were the Society of Red Men (founded 1813), the Order of United American Mechanics (1844), and shortly thereafter the Jr. Order of United American Mechanics (1853), and the Patriotic Order Sons of America (1853). All of these would have been likely conduits for the transfer or patriotic folk art from Pennsylvania to New York. Whatever the case may be, this work is in the general style of others attributable to New York and carries the "Liberty" title common to both Stiehly and New York examples.

Mounting: The outstanding, mahogany veneered, Hicks-style, corner block frame has tremendous early surface and dates to the same period as the work (1830-1850). This is a pressure mount between 100% cotton twill, black in color, and U.V. protective acrylic. The black fabric was treated to reduce and set the dye.

Condition: Exceptional given delicacy and age. There is minor foxing and staining in limited areas. There is loss in the extreme upper left corner. A piece a parchment was added underneath this for masking purposes. There are a number of small breaks in the work and there is one replacement that comprises the circular coil of the snake. The blue background is original. This was flipped over due to better condition on the presently showing side.
Primary Color: white, blue
Earliest Date: 1830
Latest Date: 1850
For Sale Status: Available
Price $16,500
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