Sunday, October 2, 2011

Cultural Artifacts: The Spirit of '76

I was ten years old and living in North Caldwell, New Jersey in 1976, when the Bicentennial captured the imagination of Americans. It was a very patriotic time, and the expression of patriotism aptly reflected the moment. The 70s brand of patriotism was highly commercialized. Its aesthetic was romanticized and often over-processed looking. Today, many of the cultural artifacts of the American Bicentennial seem rather kitschy. That's what I love about the whole thing.

This 1976 art quilt came from Texas...another great find on eBay. As soon as I saw it, I bought it on the spot. It was totally unique - unlike anything I'd seen - but I soon realized it was directly connected to something I had tucked away in a cupboard. It was a memory half-forgotten, but still existed because of an object from the past.

In 1976, I was a student at the Gould Elementary School. We had a wonderful art teacher. Wish I could remember her name... One day, she got the class to make colonial figures in the spirit of the Bicentennial. I chose Benjamin Franklin. My Ben Franklin figure was made with a glass bottle body and a styrofoam ball head. It was covered with moistened plaster of Paris bandage tape, and painted and embellished when dry. I used tempera paint, felt, acrylic yarn for hair, a piece of lace for the ruffle, and white twine for the kite string. The kite was made out of construction paper, but fell off and disappeared long ago.

When I look at the "Founding Father" art quilt, I am struck by the use of lace, the same way I had used lace on my figure. I am also struck by the similarities in the simplistic rendering of the faces. These are two naive, folk art objects, one childlike, and the other playful in its clever choice of fabrics.

These cultural artifacts of the American Bicentennial show just how thoroughly the colonial and arts and crafts revivals had captured the imagination of Americans in 1976. Children, artists, quiltmakers - ordinary people - expressed patriotism - each in his or her own way. The images may seem primitive, but they are unique, authentic, and have somehow survived the test of time.


  1. Hi Bill, I can't find an email for you, so I'll leave this message here. I just posted photos from you Beauty Secrets show on my blog, and the quilts getting rave reviews. You may want to stop by and see the comments. Thank you for bringing these quilts to us. You are so generous and we love you for it!

  2. P.S. This is the weirdest quilt I've ever seen. I love it! What a relic.