Skylar Fein and Abraham Lincoln: a look into Brooklyn’s collections

With the 150th anniversary of the American Civil War it is a good moment to look back through time and how Americans have been depicted over the years in both the objects we live with and through the popular press. Those of us who work here at the Brooklyn Museum are keenly aware of the depth and breadth of the encyclopedic collections that have been amassed over the years. Every once in a while we have the opportunity to dip into these collections and look for items that circle around a similar theme.

We just had that opportunity when Eugenie Tsai, John and Barbara Vogelstein Curator of Contemporary Art, came looking for objects to support a small installation built around a wonderful new acquisition.

Black Lincoln for Dooky Chase by Skylar Fein

Skylar Fein (American, born 1968). Black Lincoln for Dooky Chase, 2010. Acrylic on plaster and wood , 68 x 44 in. (172.7 x 111.8 cm). Brooklyn Museum, Purchase gift of Stephanie and Tim Ingrassia, 2010.66. © Skylar Fein. Image: Jonathan Ferrara Gallery

The new work is entitled Black Lincoln for Dooky Chase by Skylar Fein acquired through a purchase gift from Stephanie Ingrassia (a Brooklyn Museum Board Member) and her husband Tim. As the Museum Librarian, I was delighted when Eugenie selected three items from the Library collection to be included in this installation. Here was a great way to showcase seldom seen rare items from the Library collection and we jumped at the chance!

I encourage you all to come see this interesting installation located in the Special Exhibition Gallery on the Fifth Floor of the Museum. In addition to the Skylar Fein, you will see a small carte de visite of Abraham Lincoln with his son Tad looking at a photo album in Matthew Brady’s studio. The image, dated Feb. 9, 1864, was widely published and distributed especially after Lincoln was assasinated in April 1865.

One of my favorite magazines in the Library collection is Harper’s New Monthly Magazine. Included in the installation is an issue of Harper’s dated June 1865 opened to Abraham Lincoln at Home. The beautiful wood engraving is surrounded by interesting text and advertisements that reflect what was happening when the magazine was published.

Copperheads by Moyra Davey

Pages from Copperheads by Moyra Davey. Images Bywater Bros. Editions.

The third item from the Library collection is a more recent publication—an artists’ book entitled Copperheads by Moyra Davey. Davey’s book presents close-up photographs of pennies found in the street. Her images highlight the oxidation and degradation of the coins, contrasting the effects of their daily use as currency with the ideals embodied by the image of Lincoln. “Copperhead” is slang for a penny, but it also refers to the term used in the nineteenth century for Northern Democrats who opposed the Civil War and the policies of Lincoln’s administration.

There are many more objects to be seen including wonderful silhouettes from the Museum’s Decorative Arts collection and a Kara Walker entitled Cotton Hoards in Southern Swamp, Harper’s Pictorial History of the Civil War.

This installation is visually and intellectually challenging as it shows how ideas and images have been communicated through time. A topic we can so easily build on through the extensive collections held here at the Brooklyn Museum!