May 13, 2014–January 8, 2017

Lectern Box: The Rock of Liberty

Artist unidentified Reformers

New England

Mid-nineteenth century

Paint on wood, with applied printed pages

7 1/2 x 14 1/4 x 10 1/2"

Collection American Folk Art Museum, New York

Gift of Ralph Esmerian, 2013.1.23

Photo by Stephen Donelian

Lectern Box: The Rock of Liberty

Trompe-l’oeil gained popularity in American arts as a result of the vogue for “fancy,” decorative treatments that fooled the eye and stirred the imagination. This unique carved wooden box appears to be covered in a quilted baize cloth with heavy tassels at the front corners. A book on top lies open to a page, top corner turned down, with three stanzas of “The Rock of Liberty.” Completing the illusion, the page is actual printed paper applied to the wooden surface.

“The Rock of Liberty” is a patriotic poem written by Mayflower descendant Richard Warren, when he was president of the Pilgrim Society; his words celebrate the history of Plymouth Rock and the stalwart Pilgrim fathers. The poem was set to music in 1855 by James G. Clark and published in Boston by Henry Tolman. Over the next decade it was published several times by such companies as H. De Marsan, “dealer in songs, toy-books &c.,” who occupied various addresses on Chatham Street in lower Manhattan during the Civil War era. The tenor of the songs De Marsan published reflects the immigrant character of the neighborhood known as Five Points, from the German “Das Star Spangled Banner” to the plaintive “No Irish Need Apply.” Many of the broadsides are also highly patriotic during this inflammatory period when Irish and other immigrants in the neighborhood were most susceptible to being drafted into the war. “The Rock of Liberty” may have been a way of encouraging support of the Union cause.

Stacy C. Hollander, “Lectern Box: The Rock of Liberty,” exhibition label for Self-Taught Genius: Treasures from the American Folk Art Museum. Stacy C. Hollander and Valérie Rousseau, curators. New York: American Folk Art Museum, 2014.