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Revisiting America: The Prints of Currier & Ives

In 2016, ConAgra Foods, Inc. donated nearly 600 Currier & Ives lithographs to Joslyn Art Museum. Now home to one of the largest public collections of these popular and historically significant images, Joslyn has organized this exhibition that sheds new light on the famous firm’s artistic and commercial practices. Revisiting America: The Prints of Currier & Ives will explore how the largest printmaking company in nineteenth-century America visualized the nation’s social, political, and industrial fabric.

Known today for its lush, hand-colored lithographs that nostalgically depicted an idyllic republic of pioneer homesteads, sporting camps, and bucolic pastimes, these sentimental images comprised only one aspect of Currier & Ives’ production. The company’s inexpensive and popular prints were a ubiquitous presence for decades, and just as frequently touched on pressing social and political issues. Addressing economic development, western expansion, the Civil War, and controversies of racial and class politics, Currier & Ives portrayed scenes of urbanization, nation building, naval battles, catastrophic disasters, and current events that were far from idyllic.

Divided into five themes – Country Life, Hunting, Politics and History, Sport, and Urbanization – this exhibition reveals the surprising modernity of the firm’s prints, offering a complex and conflicted vision of America that embraced the possibilities of an emerging urban and industrial society while nostalgically celebrating the social stability of a rural ideal.

Revisiting America will be accompanied by a scholarly publication reproducing 100 of the finest examples of Currier & Ives’ production, as well as on-line catalogue of the complete collection, which will be permanently accessible from the Museum’s website. Following the Joslyn exhibition, Revisiting America will be offered for presentation at six additional museums, allowing audiences across the country to enjoy this unmatched panorama of life in nineteenth-century America.
Relevant research areas: North America, 19th Century, Lithography

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