Fine Arts Lecture Series


and the Creation of a National Identity

copley revereIf you wanted to show the history of America in pictures, what would you choose? A portrait of George Washington by Gilbert Stuart? A view of the verdant hills along the Hudson River by Thomas Cole? A group of charging cowboys by Frederic Remington? This lecture series will focus on these and other works of art that were deeply expressive of American identity at particular moments in the nation’s early history, beginning with the Federal Period when independence was won and government, established; followed by the antebellum decades when American characters or local types became popular; and concluding with the century-long fascination with the frontier and the Native American.

The opening lecture will discuss how artists seized the opportunity to record the dramatic events of the American Revolution, from scenes of courage on the battlefield to the quieter moments of debate and resolution that characterized the early conventions. In addition to realistic images of the events and leaders during the founding moments of the Republic, artists expressed the abstract principles that were argued whenever the delegates gathered in a series of symbols that even today remain central to our national iconography. For example, the American bald eagle became the symbol of national unity on the Great Seal of the U.S. in 1782 and the lovely young lady named Columbia was introduced as Liberty.

By 1820, citizens’ concerns had shifted from the idealism and unity of purpose that characterized the early Republic to an interest in local characters and habitats. And artists responded with colorful images of American types, including the Yankee farmer, the city dandy, and frontier heroes like the Mississippi riverboat men and Davy Crockett, bear hunter and homestead protector. These “originals” were admired for their common sense, shrewdness, and even the pungent language of their region, and it was this authenticity that became the signature quality of Americans in their own eyes and in those of the outside world.

Finally, the West and the Native American assumed a dominant role in the national imagination. The myth of the frontier endured in large part because European Americans defined themselves as a people struggling to push the wilderness back and bring light to the forces of darkness. From the 1820s on, some artists recorded the faces, costumes, and rituals of vanishing indigenous peoples, while others celebrated the remote western landscape as God’s handiwork. The promise of a fresh start inspired homesteaders to push westward until they filled prairie with their settlements. By 1890 the frontier no longer existed as a physical boundary, even as it animated the American imagination.

Lecture #1: Thu., March 6, 2014 ~ 10 AM
Portraits by Copley, Stuart & Peale

The foundation of a new nation required a history, and part of that history could be expressed visually, as portraits, history paintings, new buildings, monumental sculpture, flags, and seals, which together became enduring emblems of America. One of the first to complete portraits of Revolutionary heroes was John Singleton Copley of Boston, whose images captured the characteristic looks and gestures of their sitters and suggested their place in the social hierarchy. For example, Paul Revere is identified by his special contribution to the family silver business, a Federal style teapot, which would have conferred status and taste on its new owner. Other artists depicted George Washington in his various roles as landowner, general, statesman, and even as a Roman ruler whose dignity recalls the virtues of classical heroes and thus confers legitimacy to the new Republic.

Lecture #2: Thu., April 3, 2014 ~ 10 AM
Scenes of Country Life by Mount & Bingham

As American society grew more urban and mobile, city dwellers in particular were both amused and reassured by images of their country cousins. William Sidney Mount’s paintings of farmers bargaining or arguing politics over the fence flattered their feelings of superiority, while western types were repositories for fantasies of social freedom. George Caleb Bingham’s many versions of Mississippi boatmen celebrated the camaraderie of a diverse crew by applying a classical style to suggest the harmony and stability of the scene. Likewise Bingham’s panoramic views of stump speaking and country elections are full of the realistic details that a Missouri politician, like himself, would have known well.

Lecture #3: Thu., April 24, 2014 ~ 10 AM
Homesteaders Battle the Plains Indians

Americans were fascinated by the seemingly endless prairie that lay west of the Mississippi River and by the nomadic Indian tribes that survived there, including the Sioux, the Cheyenne, and the Apache. But they were also driven by the powerful idea of Manifest Destiny to claim the continent for themselves, but with a variety of intentions, that of civilizing the wilderness, establishing morally purified communities, or discovering the fabled riches of the New World. Artists depicted both sides of the struggle, the hardships of the pioneers’ journeys and the desperation of the Native Americans’ last stand.


Dr. Molly Gwinn
is an art historian who has presented the spring lecture series in the past and has offered classes at the Center for Creative Retirement at Sandhills Community College. She earned her doctorate from Rutgers University and has taught art history at Rutgers, the School of Continuing & Professional Studies at New York University, and the Dallas Museum of Art. She is the daughter of Barbara Sutherland, a well-known Southern Pines artist and long-time resident of Penick Village. Molly’s support for Penick continues in her work on the annual Penick Art Show.

COST (per lecture): $11 for ACMC & Weymouth Members / $16 for Nonmembers
(Prices include the new NC Sales Tax.)

All Lectures will be presented at Weymouth Center (555 E. Connecticut Ave., Southern Pines).

Space is limited. Please register now with full payment at the Arts Council’s offices (Campbell House, 482 E. Connecticut Ave., Southern Pines) or by calling 910-692-ARTS (2787).

For additional information, call 910-692-ARTS (2787) or visit

Lecture #2 – Thursday, April 21, 2011 at 10:00 a.m. by Molly GwinnThomas Hart Benton & Grant Wood: Celebrating the Heartland

Lecture #2 – Thursday, April 21, 2011 at 10:00 a.m. by Molly Gwinn

Thomas Hart Benton & Grant Wood: Celebrating the Heartland