To coincide with the Grand Excursion 2004, The Minneapolis Institute of Arts is presenting "Currents of Change: Art and Life Along the Mississippi River, 1850-1861." This exhibition showcases arts along the Mississippi River through 175 objects, among them paintings, prints, drawings, photographs, furniture, silver, ceramics, textiles, and sculpture. "Currents of Change" also commemorates the sesquicentennial (150th anniversary) of the Grand Excursion and the authorship of The Song of Hiawatha by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, two events that put the upper Mississippi River on the map.
"Currents of Change" explores the fine and decorative arts along the Mississippi River during the 1850s, a dramatic time in the development of America. The nation was undergoing extraordinary and massive changes: from the steamboat era to the advent of the railroad, from a mostly agrarian economy to the dawn of the Industrial Revolution, from a nation of youthful optimism to one which would soon erupt into civil war. The economy of the Mississippi Valley--lumber and flour milling, lead production, and sugar and cotton processing--gave rise to the great cities along the river that we know today and financed the demand for sophisticated furnishings and a refined life. The Mississippi, which had long been a channel for trade, was becoming an important conduit for ideas about art, culture, and design.
"Currents of Change" includes the only extant panorama of the Mississippi River, a 340-foot moving landscape that will be exhibited in a theatrical setting similar to how it would have been seen in the 1850s. From the Institute's own collection comes the dressing bureau from the famous suite originally intended for Henry Clay's White House bedroom, had he won the election of 1844. Instead of to the White House, this fabulous Gothic revival suite was sent to Rosedown Plantation in St. Francisville, Louisiana, where it remained for 150 years. Looking forward in design and to the North geographically, the exhibition features a Rococo revival pitcher retailed by the renowned Jaccard firm of St. Louis--the "Tiffany's of the Midwest." The pitcher, finely decorated with characteristic grape leaves, vines, and flowers, was made in 1854 for Le Grand Morehouse, one of seven steamboat captains on the Grand Excursion. Along with these objects from the museum's collection are works from sixty-three lenders, many of which are seldom seen, including those from numerous museums, historical societies, and private collections up and down the river valley.
As well as illustrating the objects in the exhibition and related works, the "Currents of Change" catalogue includes three thematic essays. Institute Curator Christopher Monkhouse, who has lectured and published extensively on Henry Wadsworth Longfellow's impact on domestic interiors, examines the forging of America's identity with the Mississippi through Longfellow's The Song of Hiawatha (1855) and Evangeline (1847), both of which are set in the Mississippi River valley. Institute Assistant Curator Jason T. Busch, who has studied and published on the decorative arts and culture of the Lower Mississippi, uses furnishings and portraits by artists such as Thomas Sully and Alexander Roux to compare domestic spaces and to trace patterns of patronage and decoration along the river. Janet Whitmore, a freelance art historian, addresses the Mississippi River landscape, people, and architecture in paintings by artists such as George Caleb Bingham and Henry Lewis.
This exhibition and related programs are made possible through generous support from the Regis Foundation, RSP Architects, and Peg McNally.
Additional support has been provided by members and supporters of the Decorative Arts Curatorial Council.