|EXCEPTIONAL PATRIOTIC SCHERENSCHNITTE (PAPER CUTTING), IN THE STYLE OFTEN ATTRIBUTED TO ISAAC STIEHLY, ENTITLED “LIBERTY,” WITH IMAGERY THAT INCLUDES AN AMERICAN EAGLE WITH A 14-STAR, 13-STRIPE FLAG IN ITS BEAK, A RATTLESNAKE, AND SNOWFLAKE MEDALLIONS, CA 1830-1850
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|This exceptional patriotic scherenschnitte was executed in the style often attributed to Pennsylvania German minister Isaac Stiehly (1800-1869), a Pennsylvania Germ1an Reformed Pastor and one of the most prolific of all Pennsylvanian scherenschnitte artists. 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 exceptional quality of the cutwork, which centers on a large, federal eagle, with a red, white, and blue striped shield upon its breast, gripping an American flag in its beak and a coiled rattlesnake in its talons. Perched upon a diamond formation, above and to the left of the eagle's head the word "Liberty" appears in fanciful script. Beneath the wings, flanking to the left and right, are elaborate snowflake medallions, while the remainder of the field is thoughtfully filled with flora and fauna. Perhaps the best element, however, is the delicate lift-work that replicates the eagle's feathers.
The blue, paper background is original to the work. I married the cutwork to this fantastic, corner-block frame of the 1830-1850 period, which has applied, baluster turnings, retains its original black painted surface. The original, golden-tan circles that decorate each block have scribed, Pennsylvania German pinwheel-style hexes as decoration.
It’s particularly interesting to see the image of the rattlesnake included in the design. While popularized in modern times in renderings of the colonial era Gadsen flag, with its “Don’t Tread on Me” slogan, as well as the First Navy Jack, rattlesnakes seldom appear on other 19th century patriotic objects.
Note that the flag's 14 stars are arranged in a format that consists of a wreath of 9, surrounding a single, center star, with a flanking star in each corner of the blue canton. The count of stars was likely intended to be 13, to reflect the original colonies, and thus may have been accidental. Their configuration, called a "medallion," is just about as puzzling. This was very popular in 13 star flags made for the 100th anniversary of American independence, in 1876, and can sometimes be seen during the Civil War (1861-65), but is seldom ever encountered prior to that time. Unlike the star count, the count of 13 stripes is appropriate, but the count of 22 pales (vertical stripes) on the shield has no apparent meaning.
Other known patriotic scherenschnitte display flags with various star and stripe counts. Of those I have personally owned, the one bore 14 stars and 14 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 a total of 19 stars, 10 of which are prominent, while the remainder 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 indeterminable 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.
Mounting: The antique frame, period to the work, is described above. The mat keeps the parchment away from the glazing, which is U.V. protective glass. A sheet of Mylar was placed between the work and the original wooden backboard of the frame.
Condition: There is moderate foxing in the word liberty and there is modest foxing around most of the perimeter. There is a moderate spot of foxing in the eagle's proper left wing and there is minor oxidation elsewhere throughout. A tiny piece of the letter "L" is absent in the top loop. This is wonderful condition for such an exceptionally rare and delicate paper item of the period and its overall presentation is stunning.
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