Corrections or additions?
This article by Phyllis Maguire was published in U.S. 1 Newspaper on
October 27, 1999. All rights reserved.
Edward Hicks’s Psychic Harmony
It is entirely fitting that an exhibit devoted to
Edward Hicks, the nation’s premier primitive visionary artist, should
be on display at the Mercer Museum in Doylestown, Bucks County, at
the same time that the urbane Philadelphia Museum of Art hosts a major
retropective exhbition of Hicks works.
That’s because it never occurred to the rustic Hicks to migrate to
a cultural capital — to Philadelphia, which decades after the
American Revolution, he still considered a royalist bastion —
to pursue "Art." Instead he spent his entire life in Bucks
County, weaving himself deeply into the community’s commercial and
religious life. It is thus apt to consider him in a setting crammed
with wagon wheels and hay rakes, looms and winnowers, stage coaches
and cradles. Founded in 1916 by industrialist, historian, and collector
Henry Mercer, the museum celebrates the agrarian crafts and industry
that were the backdrop to Hicks’s own life.
At the Philadelphia Museum of Art, "The Kingdoms of Edward Hicks,"
is a retrospective traveling exhibition that originated at the Abby
Aldrich Rockefeller Folk Art Center in Colonial Williamsburg, and
features more than 80 works, including 25 versions of "The Peaceable
Kingdom," as well as the magnificent "Noah’s Ark" and
Hicks’s last landscape, "A May Morning View of the Farm and Stock
of David Leedom."
At the Mercer Museum, "Edwards Hicks Country" explores the
social and historic context of Hicks’s art. Designed to spotlight
the regional significance of the artist and the region being feted
in Philadelphia, the Mercer exhibition consists of three different
displays: "Quaker Bucks County" suggests Hicks’s deep engagement
in 19th-century Quakerism; "Signs of the Times: The Trade Sign
Tradition" explores his chosen career as a sign painter; and "Penn’s
Treaty in Art and Artifact" shows Hicks’s contributions to a line
of historic and religious iconography. A companion exhibit entitled
"An Edward Hicks Sampler" at the James A. Michener Art Museum
across the street displays more of the art that grew out of Hicks’s
vision of divine transcendence and his own psychological and religious
Edward Hicks was born in 1780 is what is now Langhorne,
Bucks County, the scion of well-to-do Anglicans. His grandfather,
who was chief justice of Bucks County, was a loyalist during the Revolution,
and both he and Hicks’s father had to go into hiding.
Hicks’s mother died when he was 18 months old, leaving him to be raised
on a nearby farm by Quaker family friends, David and Elizabeth Twining.
Just a few years before he died at age 70, Hicks painted four versions
of "The Residence of David Twining"; they each show a five-year
old Edward at the knee of the Bible-reading Elizabeth, the two of
them set in a farmscape scene of peace and industry.
When he was 13, Hicks began a seven-year coachmaking apprenticeship,
an indoctrination as well into "intemperance, angry passions,
and devilishness," he noted more than 40 years later in his "Memoirs."
That record of youthful folly ended in his early 20s, when he became
a member of the Society of Friends.
Quakers had prospered in Pennsylvania during the first century of
William Penn’s Holy Experiment. But divisiveness had wracked the pacifist
sect, and there was worse to come. They had abdicated political power
in the mid-1750s rather than approve funds to wage the Seven Years’
War. Nominally neutral during the Revolution, Quakers saw many of
their own children defect from the Society to fight for independence,
or to marry into other religions in an increasingly diverse Pennsylvania.
After the war, Quaker isolation became more entrenched, and Friends
entered the 19th century clinging to their plain clothing, their plain
speech of thy’s and thee’s, and their ban on intermarriage and extravagance.
Edward married the daughter of a Quaker tanner in Newtown, which was
then the county seat, and set himself up as a coach painter. By the
time he was 30, he was well known as a traveling and impassioned Quaker
minister, a role that brought him much more renown during his lifetime
In the 1820s, the Society of Friends was split by a schism that would
last more than 100 years. Some Quakers had grown tired of being renegades
among mainstream Protestantism and wanted to practice a more recognizable
form of Christianity, complete with hired ministers, sermons, and
scriptural readings. These Friends, more numerous in the cities, became
known as Orthodox Quakers.
But rural Quakers still relied on the Inner Light and the ministry
of all believers, meeting in silence punctuated by expressions of
religious revelation. This group, who continued the mysticism that
had defined Quakerism since its beginnings in the 1650s, were known
as the Hicksites after their leader, the artist’s cousin Elias Hicks.
The theological split (with Edward siding with his cousin) remained
in the forefront of Hicks’s religious life, and many of his travels
as a minister — as far west as Ohio, north through New York, and
south to Baltimore — were motivated by his need to connect with
the Hicksite community. The scores of "Peaceable Kingdom"
paintings he painted over three decades tracked not only his faith
in Christian redemption and in Penn’s vision of human society, but
his own internal views of the Society’s turmoil and a longing for
The "Quaker Bucks County" exhibit at the Mercer shows Quaker
marriage certificates and photographs of the meetinghouses that dot
Bucks County, many of them sites where Edward preached. He himself
was instrumental in founding the Newtown Meeting which still stands
and where he rose as its first speaker in 1817. Hicks’s own home,
a stone federal at 122 Penn Street in Newtown, adjoined the meetinghouse
property, and Hicks earned $20 a year for lighting the meeting’s woodstove
fires. With his family, he lies in the burial ground there, the spreading
sycamore next to his grave nearly toppling the gravestone of his infant
granddaughter into his own.
Hicks had another, more personal struggle within the Society of Friends:
finding worth as an artist. For much of his prolific life, he wrestled
with his need to paint, sniped at by some Quakers who held that ornamental
painting was as morally corrosive — and as useless — as fiction,
music, and dance.
Hicks began his career painting coaches, but quickly discovered his
talent for (and handsome payment from) painting signs for businesses,
streets, and taverns. Sign painting satisfied his ego and his interest,
and brought badly needed revenues to a traveling minister with a growing
family who was paid nothing for preaching.
"Being a sign painter was certainly a useful occupation,"
points out Cory M. Amsler, the Mercer Museum curator. "But some
of his signs were quite elaborately embellished, and when he got that
far out, he’d be criticized by elders for straying from Quaker beliefs
in plainness and simplicity."
The war between Hicks’s talent and his spiritual beliefs led him to
briefly abandon painting and take up farming instead. But painting,
he later wrote, was "the only business I understood," and
fortunately for American art, he failed as a farmer. Wealthy family
members and well-wishers paid off his debts, in the hopes perhaps
of making him less tempted by his suspect craft. But he never forsook
painting again, and when he finally embraced easel painting, he tailored
his subjects — scriptural passages, heroic American figures, pacifist
transformation, and farmscapes — to suit the rigors of his own
The signs in "Signs of the Times: The Trade Sign Tradition"
prove that Hicks had talented company in his chosen profession. Long
before there were billboards and Java animation, there was oil paint
on wood, and American trade signs continued medieval motifs of lions
and flowering trees, as well as text set off in banners. Although
few of Hicks’s decorative pieces have survived, there is one sign
among several here displayed that is attributed to him.
It is a portrait of the Quaker patriot and financier Robert Morris,
one that hung from a tavern in Morrisville, Pa. The stalwart, imposing
portrait sits above the words, "Thy word is thy bond" —
a marriage of image and text that Hicks would also use in easel painting.
It is a good illustration of the observation made by Eleanore Price
Mather in her "Edward Hicks: A Peaceable Season": "Tavern
signs are the missing link between Hicks the coachmaker and Hicks
the artist. They required him to draw figures and, in a limited way,
to handle composition."
One of Hicks’s first easel subjects was the Niagara Falls, a celebration
of American scenery and wildlife. Soon he turned to painting William
Penn, seeing in the Quaker statesman the triumph of religious freedom
and the founding of the ideal human society. He did at least a dozen
versions of "Penn’s Treaty," one of which is included in the
Mercer "Penn’s Treaty in Art and Artifact" exhibit. The agreement
Penn supposedly brokered with Native Americans over bolts of cloth
was of course part of American lore, but Hicks worked from other artists’
renderings, two of which are exhibited here: John Hall’s 1775 engraving
of the same scene, and Benjamin West’s imposing and dramatic treatment.
By contrast, Hicks placed the viewer much closer to an intimate group
of plainly clad Quakers and Indians, filling the top half of his painting
with trees, water, and sky.
While Hicks would include the Penn’s Treaty tableau in many "Peaceable
Kingdoms," he returned to the subject of Penn in the last decade
of his life, painting at least six versions of "The Grave of William
Penn," one of which is included here.
Across the street at the Michener Museum, "An Edward Hicks Sampler"
includes several more of his works. There is his celebration of America
in his portrait of the "Old Democrat" Andrew Jackson and of
George Washington astride his horse before the crossing to Trenton.
There is his "Landing of Columbus" and a beautiful landscape
of a tree silhouetted against a river. And then there is a "Peaceable
Kingdom" from 1837, one of perhaps more than 100 studies he made
of the prophetic verses from the Book of Isaiah, proclaiming a messianic
realm where "the wolf also shall dwell with the lamb, and the
leopard shall lie down with the kid."
While experts say "The Peaceable Kingdom" series shows the
progression of Hicks’s feelings about Quaker strife, it is clear from
comments he made during his life that each of the painted animals
also symbolized a different emotional trait or propensity. Thus his
painted vision of peaceful coexistence represented psychic harmony
as well, a balance that Hicks — at least according to the majestically
serene paintings he created during the last decade of his life —
was able to achieve.
But he didn’t experience fame. When he died in 1849 at 69, more than
3,000 attended his funeral in Newtown, but no mention of his art was
made in the obituary. Giving his paintings away to friends or using
them to pay off debts, Hicks would probably have been flabbergasted,
surmised Mercer curator Amsley, to learn that a "Peaceable Kingdom"
in 1998 fetched $4.7 million. Flabbergasted, and — though it might
tempt him toward the sin of pride, one frowned upon by his elders
— secretly very pleased.
streets, Doylestown, 215-345-0210. Continues to June 30. "Penn’s
Treaty with the Indians" on view to January 7. Monday to Saturday,
10 a.m. to 5 p.m.; Sunday, noon to 5 p.m. Adults, $5.
138 South Pine Street, Doylestown, 215-340-9800. Tuesday to Friday,
10 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.; Wednesday to 9 p.m.; Saturday and Sunday, 10
a.m. to 5 p.m. $5; students $1.50. Combined admission to the Mercer
and the Michener, $8. Website: www.michenerartmuseum.org.
Benjamin Franklin Parkway at 26 Street, Philadelphia, 215-763-8100.
Show runs to January 2. Museum hours are Tuesday to Sunday, 10 a.m.
to 5 p.m.; Wednesday until 8:45 p.m. $8; seniors and children, $5.
Timed reservations required on Sundays. Call 215-235-7349 to reserve
tickets. Web: www.philamuseum.org.
In the WPA Gallery, "Ben Shahn: An Artist’s Life," a group
show of works by family members Bernarda, Abby, and Ben Shahn, with
guest Bernarda Bryson Shahn. To Friday, October 29.
Illustrators," a show featuring several national children’s reading
events, original illustrations, and prints by seven children’s book
illustrators. Artists represented are Dyanne Di Salvo Ryan, John Shoenherr,
Thomas Sperling, Karel Hayes, Ponder Goembel, Charles Santore, and
Michael Dooling. To November 11.
Road, 609-924-6700. Lore Lindenfeld’s, "A Journey in Fiber Art:
Design at Black Mountain College and Beyond." A small retrospective
that spans four phases of the fiber artist’s career: from design and
color studies for courses taught by Josef and Anni Albers at Black
Mountain College to Lindenfeld’s work in the fashion industry. To
An exhibition of watercolor and drawings of ancient towns of Italy
and Provence by Rhoda Kassof-Issac. The show is a fundraiser for the
Moshe Budmor cantata that premieres in January to celebrate the 50th
anniversary of the center.
Jon Roemer, "Photographs on the Periphery of Manhattan." To
Thomas George, recent oils and watercolors. Show runs to November
20. Gallery hours are Tuesday to Saturday, 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Website
"From the beginning, mountain landscape, the sea and the sky have
been the primary sources for my abstract paintings," says the
George. "The color and structure in these works come out of studies
done from nature in places as diverse as Norway, China, and the United
States. The canvases in this exhibition are a further step along a
road fueled by a preoccupation with the natural landscape which for
me lengthens and grows with the years."
Lear’s Greece," an exhibition of watercolors, sketchings, and
letters from the Gennadius Library of the American School of Classical
Studies in Athens, Greece. Also "The Trappings of Gentility: 19th-Century
British Art at Princeton." Both shows to January 2. The museum
is open Tuesday through Saturday, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.; Sunday 1 to 5
p.m. Free tours of the collection are every Saturday at 2 p.m.
"Paperwork: Pulp as Medium," featuring works by Anita Bernarde,
Jane Eccles, Margaret K. Johnson, Betsy Miraglia, Joan Needham, and
Marie Sturken. To November 3. Gallery hours are Monday through Friday,
noon to 3 p.m.; Thursday 7 to 9 p.m.; and Sunday, 1 to 3 p.m.
West Windsor, 609-586-4800. Frank Rivera and Joan Needham, an exhibition
of recent work by two members of the MCCC faculty. Rivera’s narrative
paintings are surreal renderings of dreams and cryptic imagery. Needham
is a paper maker and sculptor who uses scrap metal for her abstract
constructions. To November 5. Gallery hours are Monday to Thursday,
11 a.m. to 3 p.m.; and Wednesday evenings from 6 to 8 p.m.
show featuring Tim Trelease, Deirdre McGrail, Catherine Robohm Watkins,
and Ken Weathersby. To December 3. Weekdays from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m.
Trenton, 609-394-4095. Physicians’ exhibition features works by CHS
physicians Anthony Chiurco, Joseph Eberhart, Leon Fraser, Jay Goodkind,
Robert Gould, Alfred Monkowski, Horace Shaffer, Iradj Sharim, Richard
Siderits, Joseph Wood, and Lee Yazujian. To November 12.
609-921-9000. In the Conant Gallery Lounge B: Gary Peterson and Roger
LaPelle, oil paintings, to November 19. In the Brodsky Gallery of
the Chauncey Conference Center, charcoal drawings by Alexandra Sax,
to November 29. Monday to Friday, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.
732-524-3698. "Work from the Art Centre of New Jersey," a
group show of oils, watercolors, pastels and acrylics, to November
30. In the New Jersey Artist Series, "Portraits" by Nicole
Maynard-Sahar, an exhibition of expressionistic portraiture, to November
4. Free by appointment.
609-896-9060. "Departures," an exhibition by the Art Group,
featuring Princeton area artists Liz Adams, Nadine Berkowsky, Eva
Kaplan, Edith Kogan, Judith Koppel, Stephanie Mandelbaum, Helen Post,
and Gloria Wiernik. To November 12. Exhibit is open Monday to Friday,
9 a.m. to 5 p.m.
"The American Indian Artists’ Exhibition," a group show that
continues to November 29.
Gala Exhibition," the annual exhibition of work by area artists
and supporters for its gala auction set for November 6. Monday through
Thursday 11 a.m. to 4 p.m.; Sunday 1 to 4 p.m.
Recent work by Helena Lukasova. A native of the Czech Republic, she
will show bronze and iron sculpture combined with nontraditional materials.
To November 4. Monday to Thursday, 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.
Fall-Winter Exhibition. In the Museum and Domestic Arts Building,
"Beverly Pepper," one-artist show. On the mezzanine, a thematic
photography show, "Focus on Sculpture." Shows continue to
April 16, 2000. Gallery hours are Friday through Sunday, 10 a.m. to
Alan Taback’s "Dance Rhythms," a series of paintings based
on music and dance.
Street, New Brunswick, 732-846-5777. "The Hungarian Spark in America,"
an exhibit highlighting Hungarian contributions to the arts, sciences,
humanities, commerce, religious and civic life in America. To January
31. Museum hours are Tuesday to Saturday, 11 a.m. to 4 p.m.; Sunday,
1 to 4 p.m. $3 donation. Museum hours are Tuesday to Saturday, 11
a.m. to 4 p.m.; Sunday, 1 to 4 p.m. $3 donation.
732-257-4340. Contemporary sculpture by 110 artists in natural outdoor
installations on view through October. Hours are Friday to Sunday,
noon to 5 p.m., and by appointment.
Brunswick, 732-932-7237. "A Sense of Wonder: African Art from
the Faletti Family Collection." Show features 80 works, dating
from the 15th to early 20th century, presenting an overview of the
variety of style and sensibility in African art. To November 24. Museum
hours are Tuesday through Friday, 10 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.; Saturday and
Sunday, noon to 5 p.m.
609-298-6970. "Thomas Kelly: Recent Works," an exhibition
by the painter whose quirky scenes capture some of the enigma of life
as we know it. To October 31. Gallery is open Thursday to Saturday,
4 to 7 p.m.
"Cats," a group exhibition with works by artists including
Bill Giacalone, Hanneke DeNeve, Elizabeth Lombardi. Gallery is open
Tuesday through Sunday (call for hours) and by appointment. To November
The gallery celebrates its fourth year and a new exhibition season
featuring 12 gallery co-op members presenting shows that change monthly.
Working with owner Eric Gibbons are curators and artists Beverly Fredericks
and Lana Bernard-Toniolio.
Other co-op members are Maura Carey, Sarah Bernotas, Richard Gerster,
Robert Sinkus, Mike Pacitti, Michael Bergman, Jane Lawrence, Charlotte
Jacks, Dorothy Amsden, Carmen Johnson, John Wilson, and Bob Gherardi.
Gallery hours are Wednesday 11 a.m. to 9 p.m.; Thursday to Saturday,
11 a.m. to 6 p.m.; and Sunday, 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.
609-737-7592. "Environmental Studies, Computer Collages and Wooden
Ware" by J. Chester Farnsworth, a satirical show of mixed-media
work, To October 30.
609-397-0275. "Molecular Art II: Acrylics on Canvas by Max Epstein."
To November 13. Gallery hours are Monday to Thursday, 1 to 9 p.m.;
Friday 1 to 5 p.m.; and Saturday, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.
"Remains of the Old Ways: Landscapes of Rural Europe and America"
by Sandra Davis and recent images of France by Gordon Haas. To October
31. Gallery hours are Friday, Saturday, and Sunday, 11 a.m. to 6 p.m.
609-397-2226. "Painterly Impressions," an exhibition of watercolors
by the Chinese-American artist inspired by recent visits to Venice,
Alaska, and the Jersey shore. To December 3.
Annual Fall Exhibition features paintings by Albert L. Bross Jr.,
watercolors by Harriet Ermentrout, and pastels by Mike Filipiak. To
November 14. Gallery hours are Wednesday to Sunday, 11 a.m. to 5 p.m.
609-397-3349. Stephen Hall’s "Meanings and Metaphors," and
Susan Zoon’s "Contents Under Pressure." Both shows run to
October 31. Gallery is open daily, 10:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. Closed Tuesday.
Corrections or additions?
This page is published by PrincetonInfo.com
— the web site for U.S. 1 Newspaper in Princeton, New Jersey.