Early Objects & Sculpture
FLAG GATE
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  • Artist unidentified
  • Jefferson County, New York
  • c. 1876
  • Paint on wood with iron and brass
  • 39 1/2 x 57 x 3 3/4 in.
  • American Folk Art Museum, gift of Herbert Waide Hemphill Jr., 1962.1.1
  • The Flag Gate has been a jewel in the museum’s crown ever since it appeared in the inaugural exhibition of 1962. Herbert Waide Hemphill Jr., one of the museum’s founders, enjoyed telling friends that he spotted it at an Americana auction among garden furniture. His donation of the gate—the first object in the museum’s permanent collection—served to motivate others to donate similarly treasured objects, and a collection was born.

    The gate evokes the American spirit and underscores the inherent patriotism at the time of the nation’s centennial. It is thought to have been inspired by the centennial celebration and may have been made for installation on Robert Darling’s farm on Pulpit Road in the town of Antwerp, New York. The wooden flag has thirty-seven white stars on one side and thirty-eight on the other (the thirty-eighth state, Colorado, entered the Union in 1876), and the red and white stripes are wavy, as if the flag were rippling in a breeze.

    Although the source for this particular flag design has not been identified, one possibility is that it is based on a firework item used during centennial or Independence Day celebrations. Such set pieces were common in American fireworks displays, and flags, portraits, and other patriotic subjects existed in 1876 to produce a picture in fire. Unexcelled Fireworks (New York) offered a muslin flag in a wavy configuration on sticks in its 1883 trade catalog. Perhaps a wavy striped flag firework set piece was available for the centennial as well.
  • Photo by John Parnell