COLLECTION: Decorative Sculpture

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Columbia

1875-1900
Origin: America, New York, New York (probably)
Overall: 78 x 21 x 21 1/2in. (198.1 x 53.3cm)
Paint on white pine (wood microscopically analyzed 3-18-1975)
Museum Purchase
Acc. No. 1962.701.1
An over-sized, polychromed woodcarving of a female figure, her proper right arm raised above waist-height and that hand grasping the top of a sword scabbard. Her proper left arm hangs down beside her body and that hand grasps both a laurel wreath and the top of a triangular shield, the lower tip of which rests on the simulated ground. The shield's lower portion alternates red and white vertical stripes; the upper portion consists of white stars on a blue field. The wreath obscures some of the stars. She wears a short-sleeved gray-green toga-like robe and, over it, a loose wrap that is yellow on one side and red with a blue, star-decorated border on the other. Her waist-length black hair hangs loose down her back. She wears a liberty cap on her head.

Artist unidentified.
Label:Variations of this symbol of America enjoyed wide popularity, particularly during the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. While ultimately harking back to allegorical representations associated with the French Revolution, the imagery was readily adapted for American purposes. American figures typically included the patriotic motifs shown here: a liberty cap, a laurel wreath, a federal shield, and a sword (or sometimes a torch). The actual sword is missing from this example, but its scabbard remains.
Sometimes marketed under the alternative title "Goddess of Liberty," similar cast zinc figures were fabricated by many foundries. The Museum's woodcarving likely derived from a casting that was created by M. J. Seelig and Company of Williamsburg, New York, and retailed by William Demuth and Company of New York City. Other versions were sold by New York City's J. L. Mott Iron Works. The Museum's woodcarving probably functioned much as did its cast zinc sisters, which are known to have been carried in parades and displayed in public or semi-public spaces, where they reminded Americans of not only their commitment to liberty but also (through the symbol of the sword) the cost of maintaining it.

Provenance:Ownership prior to Allis (CWF's vendor) is undocumented.