Jeff Bridgman Antique Flags
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Dimensions (inches): Frame - 22.25" x 26.25", Work - 14" x 17.75"
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. 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]. Harper was running on a ticket sponsored by the American Republican Party. This was really more of an emerging political faction than a party, putting forth no candidate of their own in the 1844 Presidential election, and instead supporting Whig nominee Henry Clay. A predecessor to the Know-Nothings, this was a nativist organization, concerned with the loss of American jobs to the current onslaught of Irish immigrants, pouring into New York and Philadelphia by the tens of thousands.

Fine script along the top, fancifully embellished, reads: "The American Republican Victory April the 8th 1844." Another extant example includes similar text that reads: "American Republicans. Victorious 1844. 24,500 Votes." Harper won the mayoral race with 24,510 votes, defeating Locofoco Party candidate Jonathan I. Coddington (an anti-Tammany Hall Democrat), who received 5,297 votes, and Whig Morris Franklin, who received 20,538.

The primary graphics of the work include an eagle gripping a rattlesnake, with crossed American flags in its beak, tipped to the left and right. The flag to the left bears the small image of an eagle in its canton, standing on a globe, with a billowing streamer in its beak. It is not clear whether the eagle also grips a snake, or perhaps an arrow, but whatever the case may be, an eagle standing on a globe is New York symbolism, long present on its coat of arms, its flag, and other devices. The flag on the other side is more traditional in style. Note how each substitute stylized crosshatches for stars, which adds a naïve aspect to the design.

Note the quality of the cutwork in this example, especially the exceptional lift work in the eagles’ feathers, and the snowflake medallions in each corner. Also note the use of color, far more prominent in this particular scherenscnitte than on most of its counterparts of the time. At 14” x 17.75”, it is also among the largest known.

Block style text in an arch above the primary image reads: "Beware of Foreign Influence," a popular slogan found on other nativists objects. Below the name " Robert W. Lawrence" appears in script. Lawrence, a lifelong New Yorker, was a carpenter, which meant that he was in precisely the sort of profession affected by the influx of cheap immigrant labor. Based on this example and other Stiehly-type patriotic cutwork pictures with names, the identity is probably that of the recipient, as opposed to the maker. The tools of his trade are represented below his name. This additional imagery is unusual, as-are the figures of a Jack Tar sailor and Lady Columbia, flanked by cannons to each side, gripping a liberty pole and cap, and an American flag, each with one hand extended to balance a federal shield in the top center.

The American Republican movement launched in New York in 1843, and soon spreading to Philadelphia. It succeeded in the election of several congressional candidates in the two respective cities, as well as Mayor Harper. Popularity grew as conflict escalated between existing protestant residents and the swell of Irish and German Catholics.

The fervor of resulting violence culminated during the Philadelphia Nativist Riots, which took place between May and July, 1844. Also termed the “Prayer” or “Bible Riots,” these resulted in numerous deaths and injuries. In addition, a convent and several Catholic Churches were burnt to the ground, as nativists responded to a spreading a rumor that Catholics were trying to remove the Bible from public schools.

Although nativist groups denied responsibility in the burnings, the events led to negative publicity that tempered support for nativist activities in general. These were the roots, however, of a growing movement, from which sprang the Native American Party (1844) and the American Party of the 1850's, better known as the "Know-Nothings."

In Philadelphia the Native American Party/American Republicans were led in part (there was more than one figurehead) by a Jewish, Charleston, South Carolina-born Philadelphian named Lewis C. Levin. Levin himself is of particular interest from a religious standpoint, because when elected in 1844 with American Republican support, he became the first Jewish member of the United States Congress.

Stiehly, 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 "Temperence" and "Liberty".

Louis Levin was the editor of two influential newspapers of the 1840's, the "Daily Sun" and the "Temperence 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 might have been right up Stiehly's ally as a leader of a protestant church.

Levin 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 is a very interesting example, large in scale and uncommonly colorful, with additional imagery that isn't usually present, specific history to a New York resident, and with political reference as well as patriotic.

Mounting: The paint-decorated, ripple-profile molding dates to the period between 1830 and the 1850's and retains its original, gilded, piecrust liner. This is a pressure mount between U.V. protective acrylic (Plexiglas) and 100% cotton twill, black in color, that has been washed and treated for colorfastness.

Condition: There is modest discoloration and minor water staining along the edges. There is minor discoloration in the eagle and a general, the most significant of which is on the eagle’s proper left leg. These can be readily excused because they are relatively minor and because it is an exceptionally rare item with terrific presentation.
Primary Color: white, ivory
Earliest Date: 1844
Latest Date: 1844
For Sale Status: Available
Price Please call (717) 676-0545 or (717) 502-1281
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