|HAND-PAINTED PATRIOTIC BANNER WITH THE SEAL OF THE STATE OF KENTUCKY AND SPECTACULAR PRESENTATION, WITH GREAT FOLK QUALITIES, PROBABLY MADE FOR THE 1868 DEMOCRAT NATIONAL CONVENTION IN NEW YORK CITY
|Frame Size (H x L):
|Approx. 80" x 50"
|Flag Size (H x L):
|Approx. 65" x 34"
|Swallowtail format, patriotic, vertical banner, bearing the name and the seal of the State of Kentucky. Made in the period between roughly 1861 and the 1876, the textile is entirely hand-painted on light, cotton canvas, and tacked to a red-painted, wooden staff, with gold, acorn finials, that is original to the banner. A length of red wool tape was used to reinforce the point where the tacks are affixed.
Note the bold and interesting imagery, which includes a modernistic, folded streamer on a cornflower blue field of 20 visible stars and an interpretation of the device of the state, executed in a folk style. Below this, on a field of 11 vertical stripes, is a medallion set within beautiful, gilded scrollwork. The seal is a loose interpretation of the actual. It shows two well-appointed gentlemen, with clasped hands and arms on each-other’s shoulders, in reverent agreement. Behind them and to the left is a bookcase, and to the right, on a clawfoot, round table, are an inkwell and quill, and a document which they have presumably just signed. These are taken from the Kentucky’s state motto, “United We Stand, Divided We Fall,” is arched above, along the upper border of the device.
When the General Assembly of Kentucky first met, in Lexington, shortly after Kentucky was granted statehood, legislators charged the Governor with the creation and adoption of a state seal. Upon doing so, they dictated that the device should depict "two friends, in hunter's garb, their right hands clasped, their left resting on each other's shoulders, their feet on the verge of a precipice." This was to be a literal rendering of the state motto.
As with many American coats of arms, written or verbal explanations seem to have deviated significantly from the interpretation of any particular artist who produced them. The initial person employed in that task for Kentucky was Lexington Silversmith David Humphries, who chose to illustrate the men in long-tailed coats.
During the Civil War, in 1862, the General Assembly of the Commonwealth decreed that the two figures should be a pioneer, in fringed buckskin, clasping hands with a gentleman. The popular myth is that the frontiersman was to represent the iconic woodsman, Daniel Boone, who explored and settled the state, though this is unlikely to have been the original intent back in 1792, as Boone was serving in the Virginia Legislature in 1791, had accumulated significant debt in Kentucky, and didn’t return to the state to reside until 1795, leaving again in 1798. A remarkable man in all respects, he was nonetheless in somewhat ill favor around the time of the seal’s creation.
Banners of this type were often hoisted on single vertical staffs that held the rope aloft in the center. This basic style was both carried in parades and affixed on mounts indoors. Similar decorations and banners can be seen along the walls at early political conventions, or hoisted among benches, where they denoted the positions of the seating of attendees from various states. Others in the same form are known for Illinois, Mississippi, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Delaware, Virginia, Louisiana, Kansas, and Massachusetts, as well as New York City. The latest state among these is Kansas, which gained statehood in the opening year of the Civil War (1861). The presence of the New York City example strongly suggests that whatever event they were used at occurred in New York.
The manner of construction including the fabric and the painted surface, as well as the overall imagery, and the seals, themselves, suggests that the banners date to the third quarter of the 19th century. The only political convention held in New York, for either party, at any time between 1861 and 1900, took pace in 1868. In that year the Democrat National Convention was held at Manhattan’s Tammany Hall.
A colorful illustration, printed for Joseph Shannon’s Manual of the Corporation of the City of New York, shows the interior of the building masterfully festooned with patriotic banners, medallions, and buntings of similar nature. Only the front and the central interior are pictured, but two full sets of state-identifying decorations are shown. Though neither happens to match this particular style, the particular banners may have been the set carried in the parade that accompanied the event, and may have afterwards been hung elsewhere on the premises. The amount of wealth at Tammany Hall at the time, and the artistic resources available to produce the banners, were more easily accessed in New York than anywhere else in the nation.
An alternative, though less likely possibility, is that the banners were used in festivities pertaining to the 100-year anniversary of American independence in 1876, either in New York, or at an event such as the Centennial International Exhibition, our nation’s first World’s Fair, held in Philadelphia in that year. In addition to each, individual state, New York City may have had its own pavilion at the Centennial Expo. I would consider this far more likely, if a banner representing the City of Philadelphia were known. Whatever the case may be, the particular banner that is the focus of this narrative, is a boldly graphic and colorful survivor, and the only 19th century example of any kind that I have ever encountered with the device of the State of Kentucky.
Provenance: Christies Auction, 2002. Illustrated in “Stars & The Stripes: Patriotic Motifs in American Folk Art” by Deborah Harding, (2002, Rizzoli International Publications, New York,) p. 52-53. The Harding text likely is incorrect by attempting to identify the illustration as depicting the Crittenden Compromise. In my opinion, neither man resembles former Kentucky Congressman and Governor, United States Senator and Attorney General, John J. Crittenden. Whether shown as gentlemen or woodsmen, the two figures on the myriad of depictions of the Kentucky State Seal always have different clothing, different styles of hair, etc. Perhaps the paper falling off the table is suggestive of the failed Crittenden measure to keep slavery constitutional, and hopeful agreement within the state to leave it behind, but the bookcase and table, with quill and pen, appear regularly in some of the earliest illustrations of the seal.
Mounting: The banner was mounted and framed within our own conservation department, which is led by expert trained staff. We take great care in the mounting and presentation of flags and have preserved thousands of examples.
The background is 100% cotton twill, black in color. The mount was placed in a black-painted, hand-gilded and distressed Italian molding. A shadowbox was created to accommodate the staff. The glazing is U.V. protective acrylic (Plexiglas). Feel free to contact us for more details.
Condition: The striped portion of the banner, below the centerpoint of the device, had experienced both pigment loss and soiling. This was carefully cleaned and some of the color was professionally restored. The staff was shortened just slightly. There are minor losses elsewhere, but no restoration was undertaken in the device or the upper register.
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