“When George Washington presided over the 1787 convention that brought about the Constitution, he sat in a chair designed by Philadelphia furniture-maker John Folwell. Carved from mahogany and topped with the image of half a sun, it caught the framers’ attention. The sun’s ambiguity seemed to stand for the uncertain outcome of the debates. As Benjamin Franklin is supposed to have said, “I have, often and often in the course of the session, and the vicissitudes of my hopes and fears as to its issue, looked at that [sun] behind the President without being able to tell whether it was rising or setting: But now at length I have the happiness to know that it is a rising and not a setting sun.” This optimistic resolution would seem to square with a vision of the birth of the United States as a special, emancipatory enterprise. After all, Folwell even put a liberty cap (a symbol for a freed slave) over the sun.”
Perhaps Folwell was more of a symbolist than anyone knew… For only “half a sun” seems to have symbolic meaning for the new nation, too. Perhaps it acts as a sort of caveat…not necessarily a Sun in the reversed position…but not wholly the full victory or blessing of life that the Sun card represents. That’s because there’s a kind of stain, an unattended eclipse that shadows the birth of the nation…
“…[A]s Eric Slauter points out, Folwell also crafted the chair from mahogany harvested by slaves in Central America and the West Indies. The material undermines the chair’s heady rhetoric, and any art historical analysis of the objects associated with the American Revolution has to take into account the nation’s founding on the logics and practices of racism and slavery.”
This eclipse, this stain, apparently still defiles and shadows the full potential of freedom, liberty and happiness that this country promises for its citizens. This country only shines with half of the potential of the Sun’s blessing.
Perhaps we can do some spellwork during the upcoming solar eclipse on August 21st. When the Sun starts to come out from its blocked view, at the half-mark, perhaps we can all meditate on a blessing that our country might realize the full potential of the Sun’s blessing. Envision enlightenment and progress for our country’s remaining sins as the Sun increases in its power and continues to grow from behind its lunar shield. As the Sun realizes its full brightness, envision the fullness of the American Dream for all Americans—especially those who feel marginalized and discriminated against by those with less than compassionate and tolerant intentions. To complete such spellwork, bring your intention into the physical world by saying something when you hear discrimination or ignorance espoused; push back when your misinformed family members, co-workers, or acquaintances state falsehoods or fake propaganda. Be the diplomacy that you want to see restored to its rightful place in public discourse, but don’t be afraid to have conversations with people who might benefit from your enlightened wisdom…
Quoted portions of this blog come from:
Mittman, Asa. “Teaching Medieval Art History in a Time of White Supremacy,” The Material Collective Blog. (posted August 12, 2017; last accessed 8/13/2017). http://thematerialcollective.org/teaching-medieval-art-history-time-white-supremacy/