February 1, 1996–February 1, 2002

American Traditions

Art of the People

Of the United States, Walt Whitman wrote, "Here is not merely a nation, but a teeming nation of nations."

The great movement of peoples to the United States, and to Canada, Central America, and South America, provided a cultural matrix within which developed many rich artistic traditions. Immigrants brought their culture and artistry to the Americas, often producing objects such as those they had made in their country of origin. Arriving in the New World, these immigrants encountered great nations of native peoples who were already producing vibrant, expressive works of art. Despite the complex history of success and failure that followed the coming together of many peoples, the American experience was and remains one of rich cultural multiplicity that inspired the works of art displayed in this gallery.

Although under a drive to conform, immigrants and Native Americans often persistently maintained their traditional, expressive voice through works of art. Artistic traditions inevitably change, blend, and are at times either lost or reinvented in order to reflect vital connections to ethnic roots and the American experience. The broad panorama of objects presented in this gallery--furniture, ceramics, baskets, and sculpture--can only suggest the range and richness of cultural artistic expression. These works of art give majestic voice to generations of North American Indian, African, Dutch, English, French, German, and Spanish Americans who together define what is American.