Textile Campaign Art

 

Because of the acrimony of the recent election, I’ve been hesitant to write about this subject. However it is an excellent exhibition at the George Washington University Textile Museum. Since “Your Next President…the Campaign Art of Mark and Rosalind Shenkman” only runs through April 10th, I didn’t want to wait too long to write about it.

The exhibition is an amazing glimpse into the history of campaigns, starting with some textiles honoring George Washington, even though he refused to campaign. In 1789, Washington “stood” for the position of President, not making speeches or rallying supporters. He left an impression that it wasn’t gentlemanly to campaign. This impression disappeared in the early 1800s.

The Andrew Jackson/John Quincy Adams contest of 1828 has been called the dirtiest US presidential campaign. Fabric was printed for President Jackson’s inauguration, which sometimes appears in quilts. Another image which has been found in quilts, even a few Baltimore Album quilts is the Log Cabin and Hard Cider campaign flag. For more information on the details of this campaign, please follow the link to Patricia Cummings page. The History Channel has an interesting summary of each of the elections.

 

The exhibition covers the textile art produced between 1819 and 1912…and it is art. Although in many of the pieces there is a reliance on the stripes of the flag to remind you the candidate should be president of this country, other textiles present multiple scenes of the person’s life. In the 1840s, there is an explosion of kerchiefs, flags, and other items for supporters to show their support of a specific candidate.

Besides being art it is also functional in the sense that this was the best way available at the time for spreading the message. Many Americans couldn’t read or didn’t have easy access to news, so info about the candidates spread by word of mouth or cloth. In the 19th century, the changes and advances in photography heavily impacted the campaign strategy and art, just as more recent changes in social media and T.V. had an enormous impact on the campaign. This exhibition is a great way to examine a time when textiles played such an important role.