The Great American Hall of Wonders

July 15, 2011 – January 8, 2012

Smithsonian American Art Museum
8th and F Streets, NW
Washington, DC

3rd Floor, North, Special Exhibition Galleries Floor Plan

This exhibition examines the American ingenuity that energized all aspects of 19th-century society, from the painting of landscapes and scenes of everyday life to the planning of scientific expeditions and the development of new mechanical devices. The exhibition focuses on six subjects that inspired imaginative thinking: the buffalo, the giant sequoia, and Niagara Falls -- which expressed American attitudes about nature and the vast natural bounty of the land -- and the gun, the railroad, and the clock -- three icons of mechanization that captured Americans' passion for all things mechanical and for the purposeful use of time. Each of these six subjects served as cultural lightning rods during the period, sparking creativity across a wide swath of American society. Visions of buffalo herds, railroad trestles, big trees, and Colt rifles engaged not only artists, scientists, and inventors but also poets, educators, farmers, chaplains, and members of Congress. The exhibition features 162 objects, including paintings by pre-eminent artists, including Winslow Homer, John James Audubon, and Thomas Eakins, as well as prints, survey photographs, zoological and botanical illustrations, patent models, and engineering diagrams.