Folk Art on Fire

Irad Ferry Fire Company Fireman Figure, ca. 1840-1885. J.C. May (dates unknown). New Orleans, LA. The Collection of the Mercer Museum of the Bucks County Historical Society.

The art in this exhibition celebrates the camaraderie and bravery of 19th-century American firefighters through the folk art of the time. Fire companies were eager to celebrate their value to their communities by embellishing their everyday gear and ceremonial dress, and by commissioning noble portraits of firefighting heroes. Hats, buckets, banners, clothing and even the fire engines were elaborately decorated for public celebrations such as parades, ceremonies and competitions. As early American volunteer fire companies matured into sophisticated, professional units, they left behind a rich artistic legacy that is increasingly recognized as an important part of America’s cultural heritage.

Folk Art on Fire is made possible with funding in part by generous donations from New York Central Mutual, Robert and Katharine Booth, and Mr. and Mrs. Peter Goodman. The exhibition is drawn from the collections of Robert and Katharine Booth, the Bucks County Historical Society, The New York State Historical Association and The Farmers' Museum. Special thanks to David Lewis, guest script writer and Greg Vadney, researcher.