"Engravings for the people" a fresh appraisal of the printmakers Currier & Ives and their vision of America
Currier & Ives was a powerhouse of 19th-century publishing and had an immeasurable influence on American visual culture. Founded in New York in 1834 by Nathaniel Currier, the company expanded to include a new partner, James Merritt Ives, after 1857. Currier & Ives produced millions of affordably priced copies of over 7,000 original lithographs, living up to its self-appointed title as "The Grand Central Depot for Cheap and Popular Prints." The firm took advantage of New York City's booming arts culture in the latter half of the 19th century, but its output was not seen as fine art by critics, nor was it intended as such. Its prints were first and foremost commodities; the choice subjects often determined by popularity and sales figures. Currier & Ives perpetuated Victorian ideals in its depictions of family, history, politics and urban and suburban life. But these prints also served as an important record of a nation in the midst of an extraordinary transformation from a rural and agricultural landscape to an industrialized and urbanized global power. Along with their popular appeal, Currier & Ives's images offer a new opportunity to uncover the complexities and contradictions of our history and help shape our understanding of America's past.