Month: March 2014

From the Collection: Chinese Screen

This beautiful 19th-century teak wood screen joined the collection in 1955. The panels on one side of the screen depict groupings of people wearing brightly colored clothes…

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…whereas the other side of the screen depicts rolling hills and plant life in a much more muted color palette.

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image source: Screen

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Monday Morning Muse: She’s Got the Point

This charcoal drawing by American artist John Sloan joined the collection in 1954.

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John Sloan first studied at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts and then with Robert Henri, before becoming an illustrator for Philadelphia newspapers. He moved to New York in 1902 where he taught at the Art Students League and was affiliated with The Eight. In 1910 he joined the socialist party, and was the art editor of a radical journal called The Masses. Like his colleagues, Sloan was concerned with social issues as he chronicled life in New York. He was particularly interested in the women’s suffragette movement as this lively drawing, “She’s Got the Point,” demonstrates. In this charcoal, Sloan recounts a particularly stirring moment at a rally held by the Women’s Suffragette Party. The image appeared in the October 1913 issue of The Masses.

The Mead holds many works by Sloan, including the following “Self-Portrait” and “Robert Henri Painting a Portrait.”

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image sources: 1 / 2 / 3

From The Collection: Feejee Mermaid

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Manufactured since the seventeenth century from desiccated ape, orangutan, and fish components by tricksters who passed them off as real dried specimens, Feejee mermaids gained notoriety in the nineteenth century. One celebrated example took London by storm in 1822, before P. T. Barnum acquired it in 1842 and toured it first in the northeastern, and later in the southern, United States.

In his accompanying pamphlet A Short History of Mermaids, Barnum capitalized on the popularity of mermaid-type exhibitions in fairs, circuses, and sideshows, which sometimes featured people afflicted with sirenomelia (a congenital condition that fuses the legs) or dugong (aquatic South Pacific mammals related to manatees). Spectators who purchased tickets to any such live or preserved mermaid display must have been surprised by the exhibits’ lack of resemblance to the bare-breasted beauties illustrated in the advertisements.

Long after science disproved the possibility of such a fish-mammal hybrid, the compelling figure of the Feejee mermaid has survived in the popular imagination, most recently in the television series The X-Files and in the 2003 horror film House of 1000 Corpses. The Mead’s Feejee mermaid (pictured here) was featured in an episode of Mysteries at the Museum on the Travel Channel.

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image source: Feejee Mermaid