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American ABC: Childhood in 19th-Century America

February 1 - May 7, 2006

 

The Cantor Arts Center at Stanford University presents American ABC: Childhood in 19th-Century America, one of the most comprehensive art exhibitions in recent decades to deal with American childhood, from February 1 through May 7, 2006. The exhibition, which features paintings by Winslow Homer, Thomas Eakins, George Catlin, Eastman Johnson, and other celebrated American artists, premieres at Stanford then travels to the Smithsonian American Art Museum in Washington, D.C., where it will be featured as part of that museum's grand re-opening on July 4, 2006. (right: William Bartoll , Boy with Dog, c.1840-1850, 30 1/4 x 24 1/4 inches, Greenfield Village and Henry Ford Museum. Dearborn)

Presenting approximately 50 paintings, plus prints, photographs, and books selected from major museums, libraries, archives, and private collections throughout the United States, American ABC explores the connection between images of the American child and the democratic ideals of the young United States. The exhibition also includes a wide variety of illustrated children's books, such as Mark Twain's Huck Finn, Noah Webster's Elementary Spelling Book, McGuffey's readers, and colorful ABC primers.

Over the course of the 19th century, the United States grew from an infant republic to a powerful nation with a prominent place in world affairs. American ABC demonstrates how portrayals of the nation's youngest citizens took on an important symbolic role in the United States' long journey towards maturity and will provide a window into the everyday life of the period -- the world of families, children's pastimes, and the routines of the schoolhouse.

The exhibition includes a hands-on replica of a 19th-century classroom for visitors to experience. Both scholarly and family-oriented programs will be offered at Stanford. Docents lead free tours of the show Thursdays at 12:15, Saturdays and Sundays at 2 pm during the show's run at the Cantor Arts Center.

American ABC: Childhood in 19th-Century America, is organized by the Cantor Arts Center. The exhibit is curated by Claire Perry, curator of American art at the Cantor Arts Center. Dr. Perry's primary interest is 19th century cultural history of the United States.

The exhibition, associated book, and related programs are made possible by the generosity of Carmen Christensen with additional support from Peter and Helen Bing and Cantor Arts Center members.

 

Catalogue

The exhibition's companion book, Young America: Childhood in 19th-Century Art and Culture, by Claire Perry and published by Yale University Press in association with the Iris and B. Gerald Cantor Center for Visual Arts, expands on the themes of the exhibition and presents new research on the social and economic significance of childhood in 19th-century America. According to Yale University Press:

A delightful look at how nineteenth-century American artists portrayed children and childhood
 
In an era of both optimism and anxiety about the nation's future, Americans in the nineteenth century focused attention on the cultivation and education of children as future citizens. Contemporary portrayals of children-in fine paintings, popular prints, illustrated primers, and advertisements-helped to shape cultural expectations: pictures of hardy country boys, intent schoolchildren, and little girls practicing embroidery were examples of the ways model Americans should look and behave. At the same time, images showing street urchins, young slaves, or children at work in factories reflected troubling conflicts in society.
 
This appealing book explores representations of children in relation to the currents of American culture, including urbanization, immigration, separate spheres of the genders, and the nation's professed devotion to egalitarianism. A generous selection of illustrations includes well-loved works by such artists as Winslow Homer and Eastman Johnson, as well as fascinating archival images. With engaging depictions of children from varied economic, racial, and geographic backgrounds, Young America opens a new window on the life and culture of the United States during a century of vast change and growth.

The catalogue is available December 19, 2005.

 

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