The Long Island Museum of American Art, History and Carriages

formerly The Museums at Stony Brook

Stony Brook, NY



Uncle Sam and Lady Liberty: Faces of a Nation


The evolution of two central icons in the American identity is the focus of Uncle Sam and Lady Liberty: Faces of a Nation, opening Feb. 3, 2001 at the Long Island Museum of American Art, History & Carriages.

Featuring color lithographs, posters, political cartoons, drawings and advertising ephemera, the exhibition explores the historical depictions of the nation's best-known personifications: Uncle Sam and Lady Liberty. Organized by the New -York Historical Society, circulated by Museum Presentation Association, and drawn from the New -York Historical Society's collection, the exhibition continues through May 13, 2001.

In times of war and peace, through prosperity and poverty, the figure of Uncle Sam has been a constant of the American political landscape. Legend has it that "Uncle Sam" was the nickname of Samuel Wilson (1766-1854), head of a meat-packing plant in Troy, New York. Shortly after the War of 1812 began, Wilson and Elbert Anderson, a federal agent, supplied meat for the troops. The shipping crates were marked "E.A. - U.S." A workman quipped that it stood for "Uncle Sam" Wilson. The joke quickly circulated among the troops and stuck. (left: James Flagg, Side by Side- Britannia, n.d., Collection of New -York Historical Society)

Uncle Sam was eventually utilized by both the political left and right for different causes, featured in military recruitment posters, and used to sell everything from Ex-Lax to Liberty Bonds. Today the face and name of Uncle Sam is recognized, both at home and abroad, as the face of America.

His female counterpart has undergone several transformations in identity, clothing, and style. Long before we bad the Statue of Liberty in New York Harbor, the Indian Princess symbolized the New World. Over time the Princess became less "native" and more European. Her skin grew lighter, her features became less "Indian," and her dress was adapted to the mode of the moment.

As America matured, the image of Columbia was used to symbolize America, and she was usually depicted wearing a red-white-and-blue dress with a star studded crown. The French Revolution introduced Liberty as the definitive symbol for the overthrow of oppression, and by the end of the 19th century, Lady Liberty became the undisputed female emblem of the United States - as portrayed bearing the torch of freedom by Auguste Bartholdi in the Statue of Liberty.

See other articles on 18-19th Century American Genre Art.

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For further biographical information please see America's Distinguished Artists, a national registry of historic artists.

This page was originally published in Resource Library Magazine. Please see Resource Library's Overview section for more information. rev. 4/27/11

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