Thursday, May 15, 2014

Spotlight on Our Collections: The Liberty Rug

W. & J. Sloane advertisement, Washington
Post, December 10, 1917.
The magnificent and recently restored Liberty Rug continues to “take the floor” in the home of President Woodrow Wilson where it is on display in the President’s library. This historically significant carpet was inspired by the initial floodlighting ceremony at the Statue of Liberty on December 2, 1916 at which President Woodrow Wilson officiated. This carpet, woven in Amsterdam, New York, was presented to President Woodrow Wilson on January 26, 1918 by W & J Sloane, the agents for the design.

The rug incorporates many images that represent America’s heritage and patriotism. The image of the Statue of Liberty occupies the center. Surrounding her are prints of Niagara Falls, the Mayflower, the Liberty Bell, Independence Hall, the Washington Monument, the Capitol, a Prairie Schooner, and Native American tepees. Aviatrix Ruth Law is depicted flying over the Statue of Liberty in a biplane during the statue’s floodlighting ceremony. Also represented is a ship passing through the Panama Canal, opened during the Wilson administration and a Model T Ford driving through a California Redwood tree.

Left images, top to bottom: Niagara Falls, the Mayflower, Native American tepees.
Center image: Statue of Liberty.
Right images, top to bottom: the Capitol, the Liberty Bell, boat in the locks of the Panama Canal.
The Woodrow Wilson House, Washington, DC.

An ornate border surrounds the central images with more illustrations including many state seals. New England is represented by Massachusetts, Rhode Island, and Connecticut; the Middle Atlantic States by New Jersey, New York and Pennsylvania; the Middle West by Michigan, Wisconsin, Indiana, Illinois, and Ohio; the South by Maryland, South Carolina, Arkansas, Louisiana, and Texas; and the West by Oregon and Colorado. 

The Liberty Rug. The Woodrow Wilson House,
 Washington, DC.
Illustrations of great American industrialization are also represented in the border. The Coal Mines of Pennsylvania, the great Steel mills of Pittsburgh, the Oil Wells of Oklahoma, and the Mississippi Steamboat. Agriculture and historic sites are represented as well. A Harvesting Scene from the West, the Mammoth Trees of California, Bales of Cotton on the great wharves of New Orleans, George Washington’s famous Mount Vernon mansion along the Potomac, and Lincoln’s Log Cabin. All these symbols of national significance are interwoven with wreaths of oak leaves and acorns, Indian maize, and golden rod (the national flower).

This 9-foot by 12-foot Karnak Wilton carpet occupied Wilson’s bedroom in the White House before moving to his private home on S Street in Washington, D.C. Rear Admiral Cary Grayson who wrote Woodrow Wilson’s biography recounts a story regarding Wilson’s sense of humor during his time of illness.

Once after he had been able to leave his bed and walk with assistance of his cane, he was crossing a rug with a number of figures woven into it, the Washington Monument, the Capitol and Niagara Falls. As the President crossed the rug, he turned to me and said: “Doctor, that is not a bad stunt for a lame fellow, to walk over Niagara Falls this morning.

With all its historical elements, the Liberty Rug represents an appreciation of the past and the drive to move forward. Many of the rug’s motifs address progress from across the nation. It is no wonder that this rug found a home with President Wilson, a leader and advocate of the Progressive Movement himself.

- Rebecca McGovern 

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