U.S. Capitol

Are you a fan of Pilgrims?

Embarkation_of_the_Pilgrims_Fan_75.69.99Before the advent of air conditioning, men and women carried fans to help them keep cool.  As one scholar has described, “decorative hand-held fans brought relief to an overdressed, overheated society.”  These dress accessories also added color, movement and glamour to the indoor landscape for centuries.  Among the Scottish Rite Masonic Museum and Library’s collection of fans from the 1800s and the early 1900s is this example:  a paper folding fan with bamboo sticks that bears a photogravure of a famous American painting, Robert W. Weir’s Embarkation of the Pilgrims. 

Robert Weir (1803-1889) first painted this work in 1843 for the Rotunda of the U. S. Capitol.  There it is joined by other depictions of pivotal events drawn from American history, such as Columbus’s landing in the New World and De Soto’s discovery of the Mississippi.  Decades later, Weir created a smaller version of the work that fair organizers exhibited at the 1876 Centennial International Exposition in Philadelphia.  Americans also became familiar with Weir’s version of the Pilgrims' departure from Holland through printed versions.  As well, from 1863 through the early 1900s, a version of Weir’s painting decorated $50 bank notes.  Fan_Detail_75.69.99

Makers likely crafted this fan in the late 1800s or early 1900s. The Photo Gravure Company of New York printed the image on the center of the fan.  Craftsmen assembled the fan, affixed metal brilliants to its surface and embellished the fan with painted flowers.   Underneath the photogravure of Weir’s painting, the printer featured a quote, “Truly dolful was ye sight of that sad and mournfull parting.”  William Bradford (1590-1657), the chronicler of the Pilgrims' settlement, penned those words to describe the travelers’ feelings as they left friends and family behind and started on their journey to Massachusetts.

For a description of the museum's painting, "The Landing of the Pilgrim Fathers in America, a.d., 1620," by Charles Lucy (1814-1873), see this past post.  If you have any information or questions about this fan, please leave us a comment below!


Anna Gray Bennet, Unfolding Beauty:  The Art of the Fan, Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, 1988, p. 12.

Object credit:

Fan, 1875-1900.  Printed by Photo Gravure Co., A. C. Bosselman, New York, New York.  Gift of The Estate of Russell J. and Vera L. Wilder, 75.69.99.



"We Have Met the Enemy and They Are Ours": Perry's Victory on Lake Erie

Perry, 74_3_2DI1 This print depicts a signal moment in the career of Oliver Hazard Perry (1785–1819), the commander of the U.S. naval fleet on Lake Erie during the War of 1812, a conflict which ended in 1815. On the morning of September 10, 1813, British Naval Commander Robert Barclay fired the first shots of what would become one of the most important naval battles in the war. The confrontation took place on the western end of Lake Erie, near what is now Sandusky, Ohio. You can see a map of its location here. After hours of fighting, Perry abandoned his badly damaged flagship, the USS Lawrence, and took command of a relatively unscathed vessel, the Niagara, from her less-experienced commander, Lieutenant Jesse Elliott. The battle began anew, and the British ships—whose senior officers had been wounded or killed—soon surrendered. Perry informed U.S. General William Henry Harrison (1773–1841) of the victory with the now-famous words, “We have met the enemy and they are ours.” This strategic triumph ensured American control of the Great Lakes and secured Perry the name, “The Hero of Lake Erie.”

Although publishers Kurz and Allison did not identify the original painting that inspired this print, two monumental paintings by William Henry Powell (1823–1879) clearly served as a jumping-off point for the engraver. The legislature in Ohio, Powell’s home state, commissioned one in 1857. Completed in 1865, it now hangs in rotunda of the State House. The U.S. Senate's Joint Committee on the Library commissioned the other, larger version in the months after the first painting went on view. It has hung in the Senate wing of the U.S. Capitol since 1873.

GW Crossing the Delaware, 74_2_13DI1 Like many historic prints, this image reflects the era in which it was made as much as the event it depicts. For example, both Perry’s heroic stance in the boat and the flag behind him recall Emanuel Leutze's iconic 1851 painting George Washington Crossing the Delaware, an image that a far-reaching audience found familiar, thanks to a widely available 1853 print. In addition, although a number of the sailors in Perry’s fleet were African American, Powell may have included the black sailor in his 1857 painting to highlight the issues of slavery and race during the years leading up to the Civil War. Several decades later, during the post-Civil War Reconstruction era, Kurz and Allison followed suit when making their copy of the image.

You can see both Perry’s Victory on Lake Erie and Washington Crossing the Delaware in the exhibition, “The Art of American History: Prints from the Collection,” now on view in the Museum’s newly renovated lobby area.


Perry’s Victory on Lake Erie, late 1800s. Kurz and Allison (1880–1903), publishers, Chicago, Illinois. Special Acquisitions Fund, 74.3.2.

Washington Crossing the Delaware, 1853. Emanuel Leutze (1816–1868), artist; Paul Girardet (1821–1893), engraver; M. Knoedler (1823–1878), publisher, New York, New York. Special Acquisitions Fund, 74.2.13.

Don't Miss "The Initiated Eye"! Closing January 9, 2011

2007_057_1a-cDI1 Doric column The Museum’s exhibition, "The Initiated Eye: Secrets, Symbols, Freemasonry, and the Architecture of Washington, D.C.," will be coming to a close on January 9, 2011.  We hope you will make plans now to fit in a visit before it is gone.

"The Initiated Eye" presents 21 paintings by artist Peter Waddell, based on the architecture of Washington, D.C., and the role that our founding fathers and prominent citizens--many of whom were Freemasons--played in establishing the city.  The depictions of historical events, activities, and ceremonies carefully explain and demystify Freemasonry for the public.

Approximately 40 objects from the National Heritage Museum collection enrich the exhibition.  One of these objects is a recently acquired Doric column pedestal that was previously used in a lodge in Keene, New Hampshire.  Part of a set of three (the other two show the Ionic and Corinthian styles), the pedestal was probably made in Boston around 1890.

In the exhibition, the pedestal is shown in connection with the painting, Centerpiece of the New Republic (seen at right), which depicts the crypt underneath the U.S. Capitol.  The crypt is located at the dividing point of Washington, D.C.’s quadrants and was built to hold the body of George Washington (1732-1799).  The founding fathers also envisioned an even greater role for the structure.  Inset in the middle of the crypt floor is a brass compass rose, the location for the New Republic’s prime meridian, to replace the one in Greenwich, England.  Planners envisioned that all distances would be measured from this point and that all boundaries for future states would be surveyed from it.  Delicate elliptical vaults transfer the weight of the Capitol’s rotunda onto unfluted Doric columns.07

The paintings in the exhibition were commissioned by, and are the property of, the Grand Lodge of Free and Accepted Masons of Washington, D.C., with all rights reserved.  This exhibition is supported by the Scottish Rite Masons of the Northern Masonic Jurisdiction, U.S.A.

Doric column pedestal, ca. 1890, American, National Heritage Museum collection, Museum purchase, 2007.057.1a-c. 

Centerpiece of the New Republic, 2005, Peter Waddell, Washington, D.C., Courtesy of the Grand Lodge of Free and Accepted Masons of Washington, D.C.