This printed fragment by American Print Works of Fall River, Massachusetts has offset rows of small portrait medallions that contain the image of South American liberator Simón Bolívar (Venezuelan, 1783–1830). This fabric likely was produced for Philadelphia’s Centennial Exposition of 1876, which celebrated the one hundredth anniversary of the signing of the Declaration of Independence. Like many portraits of Bolívar, he is depicted in military dress – the portrait shows the braid, buttons, and shoulder epaulettes of his uniform jacket. While a commemorative textile of Bolívar might seem out of place for the centennial of the Declaration of Independence, there were reasons to make the connection. A celebration of American independence provided an opportunity to celebrate all independent nations of the Western Hemisphere. Furthermore, the symbolic embrace of a South American hero dovetailed with America’s renewed commitment to the Monroe Doctrine – a foreign policy that sought to protect the Western Hemisphere, especially the newly independent Spanish colonies, from European interventionism. And lastly, and probably most importantly, American printed textiles had a large and growing market in Latin America. A printed fabric with an image of the liberator of Venezuela, Colombia, Panama, Ecuador, Peru, and Bolivia would have been especially popular.
Kimberly Randall is Collections Manager for the Textiles Department at Cooper Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum.