A Peaceable Kingdom

I’ve not posted much lately, but I have had some rather random potential post ideas floating around in my brain. I actually logged in to post a very random, unconnected sort of post, but then I looked at the March Journaling Idea Page and decided to use one of the ideas!

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One of my very favorite folk artists is Edward Hicks. He’s famous for his “Lion & Lamb” pictures, as I call them… his Peaceable Kingdoms. It’s interesting to note that in the actual Bible verses (Isaiah 11: 6-9) that inspired Hick’s artwork, a lion and lamb are not actually paired up anywhere in the text, but the two animals seem to typify his work. The Bible text prophesies of a time when there will be peace on Earth… when the most ferocious beasts will eat and sleep alongside the most timid. Something we all long for!

Edward Hicks was orphaned as a baby, and was raised by a Quaker family. He eventually became a minister in the Quaker faith, but earned his living as a sign and carriage painter. He endured a lot of conflict over his chosen profession, as the Quakers felt that artwork and embellishment was too worldly. Because of that, Hicks refused to do portrait work and for the most part, painted religious scenes. (Although he also did several incredible patiotic scenes and landscapes!)

His most famous paintings were his “Peaceable Kingdoms”… and Hicks painted at least 62 of them! As an artist, I’m completely amazed at the idea of producing that many paintings based on the same text, yet, I can also understand how God’s Word can literally be “alive” and can inspire painting after painting.

The story of these particular paintings is very interesting. Our family got to see a selection of them up close at the Abby Aldridge Folk Art Museum in Williamsburg. If you study them closely, there are some really interesting details! Most of the Peaceable Kingdoms include a group of white men and Indians, which portrays the signing of a peace treaty between William Penn and the Lenape Indians. For the Quakers, who were persecuted in Europe because of the religious beliefs, Pennsylvania was their “Peaceable Kingdom.” Literally founded on the idea of freedom to worship God, the colony was populated by those escaping persecution. The prominence of the treaty signing varies from painting to painting, as does the landscape. The version that we have hanging in our home has a landscape feature that resembles Natural Bridge… perhaps Hicks was inspired by other artist’s paintings of this natural wonder? We do know his Peaceable Kingdoms were inspired by the engravings by English engraver/painter Richard Westall.

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One of the most fascinating things to me is the animals in the paintings. It’s thought that Hicks used the lion to portray himself, (don’t you think his eyes look like the lion’s?) and that the other animals and their actions represented members and happenings in the Quaker denomination. It’s interesting, when viewing the paintings in chronological order, to watch the animals’ expression, to see who is quarreling with whom, and to see them age and sometimes become resigned. There’s also quite a bit of symbolism connected with the animals… for an interesting article check out THIS.

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As an artist, it’s also good to know that other artists were inspired by other artists. Looking at early American folk art, it’s easy to see that the artists got their inspiration and their references from engravings and prints that they saw in books or possibly hanging on their walls. They may have even based the bulk of their work on another’s artwork, yet they made it their own.

Copy and recopy the masters.

~Edgar Degas~

Another thing I love about Hicks’ work… and probably the thing that drew me to his art in the first place… is the writing around the edges of most of his paintings. Most likely, he included it because of his sign painting background, but for some reason he felt the need to add a caption or explanation to his paintings. It just adds an element that intrigues and inspires me, and I think has perhaps inspired our family to write on the walls and hang quotes, sayings, and Bible verses all around our home. We at the Frey Haus like “signage.”

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So… if you get a chance, study more about Edward Hicks! You will be inspired, I promise! Click HERE for a great book about his life and works!

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