A creative mind transforms something as mundane as a farm gate into an artistic statement and an exclamation of patriotism. Probably made around the time of the American centennial, this gate in the form of an American flag proclaimed the maker’s pride in one hundred years of nationhood. Each of the stripes is separately carved in rippling waves so that the flag appears to be blowing in the breeze. The two sides differ slightly, with thirty-seven white stars on one side and thirty-eight on the other (the thirty-eighth state, Colorado, entered the Union in 1876). The gate may have been made for Robert Darling’s farm on Pulpit Road in the town of Antwerp, Jefferson County, New York.
Stacy C. Hollander, “Flag Gate,” exhibition label for Self-Taught Genius: Treasures from the American Folk Art Museum. Stacy C. Hollander and Valérie Rousseau, curators. New York: American Folk Art Museum, 2014.
The American flag is one of the most potent national symbols, and is certainly the most recognizable. This gate in the form of the flag with wavy wooden stripes that appear to be rippling in the breeze aptly exemplifies the multiple layers of meaning that may be encoded into folk art. Its essential character is its utilitarian function as a gate, possibly made for installation on Robert Darling’s farm on Pulpit Road in the town of Antwerp, Jefferson County, New York. Its unconventional form is a mark of its maker’s creative imagination. It is thought that the gate was made around the time of the American centennial. As a product of the pervasive patriotism inherent in that moment it evokes both a national American spirit and the personal patriotism of its maker.
Stacy C. Hollander, "Flag Gate," exhibition label for Folk Art Revealed. Stacy C. Hollander and Brooke Davis Anderson, curators. New York: American Folk Art Museum, 2004.
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.
Lee Kogan, "Flag Gate," in Stacy C. Hollander, American Anthem: Masterworks from the American Folk Art Museum (New York: Harry N. Abrams in association with American Folk Art Museum, 2001), 347.