FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
September 23, 2004
Contact: Maribeth Cowan, Public Relations Director
(804) 342-9665 email:
AMERICAN VISIONS OF LIBERTY & FREEDOM OPENING
OCTOBER 16 AT THE VIRGINIA HISTORICAL SOCIETY
Richmond, VA–What do the palmetto tree, rattlesnake, and Statue of Liberty have in common? To
find out visit, American Visions of Liberty & Freedom, open October 16, 2004, through May 30, 2005, at
the Virginia Historical Society. The exhibition, funded by the National Endowment for the Humanities, shows
how generations of Americans, from Revolutionary times to the present, have drawn, carved, and quilted
symbols to represent their sometimes conflicting definitions of liberty and freedom. Among the more than
200 objects in the exhibition, some icons such as the Statue of Liberty, Uncle Sam, and the American
flag have been revived, revised, reviled, or reinterpreted to express the concerns of succeeding generations.
For example, following the September 11, 2001, attacks, all U.S. Navy vessels were ordered to fly the navy's
original red and white striped naval jack bearing a rattlesnake and the words "Don’t Tread On Me." This was the
jack used in the Revolutionary War, and its use was revived as a symbol of our nation's traditional resolve. The
one used in the exhibition was flown aboard the USS Nashville during Operation Iraqi Freedom. Similarly, the
palmetto tree, a Revolutionary War symbol of South Carolina's resistance to the British, reappeared during
the secession movement of 1860–61.
The first exhibition section, "E Pluribus Unum," deals with the mounting protest against British policies such
as the Stamp Act, Townsend Acts, and Tea Act. Regional symbols of resistance, like the backwoods rattlesnake
symbol, spread throughout the nation. After the war, the new nation realized it needed unifying symbols for the
nation's varying interpretations of liberty and freedom. Important objects in this section are a "Liberty Tree"powder
horn, made in March 1776 by New England soldier James Pike, intricately incised with a scene of "The shot
heard 'round the world" at Lexington Green; a 1790 cotton textile panel called "The Apotheosis of Franklin,"
where the goddess of liberty leads the patriot to the Temple of Fame, and a rare silver badge from the African
American "Bucks of America," a Massachusetts Revolutionary War unit composed of former slaves.
The second exhibit section, "A New Birth of Freedom," deals with the place of African Americans in American
society, terminating in civil war. The abolitionist movement, secession movement, Confederacy, and Union each
had its own symbols. A commemorative soup plate extolls Elijah Lovejoy, an anti-slavery publisher murdered in
Alton, Illinois, as "The First Martyr to American Liberty." The hammer of an 1863 breech-loading rifle is cast in
the shape of President Abraham Lincoln's head, and a whale's tooth is incised with a picture of a member of
the United States Colored Troops. An African American in his country's uniform, bearing a weapon, was a
powerful symbol of freedom, especially to black Americans.
The third section, "The Golden Door," focuses on issues of economic justice from the unveiling of the
Statue of Liberty in 1886 through the New Deal to the globalization issues of today. Section four,
"Freedom Now!" shows the symbols invented by 20th century social movements including the woman
suffrage and civil rights movements, and how liberty and freedom are invoked by both sides on issues
such as abortion, gun control, and tobacco and drug use. The final section, "To Make the World Safe
for Democracy," examines the tension between liberty and security in wartime, from the Spanish
American War to the war against terrorism. A drawing titled "Islamic America" appeared in a
New York City storefront. It shows a young Iranian-American woman wearing traditional Islamic
dress concealing all but her eyes and mouth. The pattern of this dress, however, is that of the
American flag. She drew the picture after her brother, an Islamic American, was badly beaten
following September 11, 2001, because of the way he looked. Like the other 200 objects in
the exhibit, it makes a point about liberty and freedom.
Organized by the Virginia Historical Society with additional support from the E. Rhodes and
Leona B. Carpenter Foundation and the Lettie Pate Whitehead Evans Changing Exhibitions Fund,
American Visions of Liberty & Freedom will subsequently travel to Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania;
Atlanta, Georgia; Lexington, Massachusetts; and St. Louis, Missouri.
The Virginia Historical Society is located at 428 N. Boulevard. The Story of Virginia, An American Experience,
a 10,000-square-foot exhibition with more than a thousand objects covering all of Virginia history from prehistoric
times to the present is featured in the Robins Center for Virginia History. Hours: Monday-Saturday 10am - 5pm
and Sunday 1pm - 5pm (Museum Galleries only). Admission: $5/adults, $4/seniors 55+ ($2/Tuesdays–galleries
only), $3/children and students, free/members. Admission to the galleries is free on Mondays. For group tour
information, call (804) 342-9652. For more information, please call (804) 358-4901 or visit