Fine Arts Museum News

Major Currier & Ives Exhibition Opens

Michele & Donald D'Amour Museum of Fine Arts

October 17, 2005

One of the largest public collections of Currier & Ives prints in the country will be unveiled for the first time in the special exhibition "Currier & Ives: An American Panorama."

SPRINGFIELD, Mass. - One of the largest public collections of Currier & Ives prints in the country will be unveiled for the first time in the special exhibition Currier & Ives: An American Panorama, on view from November 18, 2005 through June 4, 2006, at the Museum of Fine Arts in Springfield, Massachusetts.

The exhibition will also inaugurate the Lenore B. and Sidney A. Alpert Currier & Ives Gallery, the country's only permanent museum gallery devoted to the work of these well-known "printmakers to the people."

Big Y World Class Market, American owned since 1936, is the proud sponsor of Currier & Ives: An American Panorama. The media sponsor is 88.5/WFCR Public Radio for Western New England.
Currier & Ives: An American Panorama will feature 175 selections from the museum's collection of 787 hand-colored lithographs acquired last year from Silver Spring, Maryland, collectors Lenore B. and Sidney A. Alpert.

The exhibition is the first of its kind to explore the artistry behind the prints as well as the important role that they played in expressing an American self-image. Currier & Ives: An American Panorama will showcase some of Currier & Ives' most popular subjects, including American scenic wonders; leisure pastimes such as hunting, yachting and horse racing; portraits of famous personalities; heroic activities such as firefighting; westward expansion; and important moments in history.

Currier & Ives got its start in 1835, when Nathaniel Currier created a sensation with his lithograph illustrating the great fire that swept through New York City's business district. In only four days, he printed thousands of copies, attempting to satisfy the public demand to see Ruins of the Merchants' Exchange N.Y. after the Destructive Conflagration of Decbr. 16 & 17, 1835. Realizing the American public's thirst for images of the news, Currier created several more disaster prints and other inexpensive lithographs illustrating local and national happenings, and gained a reputation as an accomplished lithographer.

Currier had several business partners over the years, but it was James Merritt Ives who encouraged production of the prints that are now identified with the firm – idealized pictures of the daily experiences of middle class American life in the 19th century. The company employed many of the most noted artists of the day, including Eastman Johnson and Arthur Fitzwilliam Tait, and became the longest running printing firm in the United States, producing more than 7,500 different images.
Currier & Ives: An American Panorama will be organized to address a variety of themes. The introductory section will describe the history of the firm, the lithographic process, and Currier & Ives' "Best 50," a designation given by a group of Currier & Ives collectors in 1932 to describe what they considered to be the best large-folio images. Fifteen of these will be included in the exhibition.

"Creating an American Identity" will show how Currier & Ives images provided citizens of the young nation with a sense of shared history and purpose. It will include images of colonial settlement, portraits of founding fathers and the American Revolution, and idealized portrayals of the country during a time of great growth and change.

"The American Home" will include pictures of bucolic farms and happy homes, especially those set in New England. The idea of "home" was central to Victorian American culture, providing a safe haven from the rapid societal changes brought about by the Industrial Revolution. Currier & Ives prints were among the household decorations considered appropriate for a proper home by Catharine Esther Beecher and Harriet Beecher Stowe, authors of American Woman's Home (1869): "The great value of pictures for the home would be, after all, in their sentiment. They should express the sincere ideas and tastes of the household and not the tyrannical dicta of some art critic or neighbor."

America's growing prosperity and its emergence as a world power is depicted in the section on "American Progress." These images depict urbanization (and its pitfalls), technological achievements, westward expansion, and immigration.

Prints of sporting events such as horse racing, yachting, hunting, fishing and group activities express America's enjoyment of its newfound wealth and leisure time in the section on "American Success."

Note: About the exhibit sponsor, Big Y World Class Market:

Headquartered in Springfield, Mass., Big Y is one of the largest independently owned supermarket chains in New England. Proud to be family owned and operated, they currently operate 52 stores throughout Connecticut and Massachusetts with over 8,500 employees. Founded in 1936 by brothers Paul and Gerald D'Amour, the store was named after an intersection in Chicopee, Massachusetts where two roads converge to form a "Y".
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