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American Primitives and Copies of the Bishop Hill Paintings by the Index of American Design

April 03 – April 30, 1940

A. M. Book | Thomas Fernon | Olaf Krans | William Lambe | L. Lombart | Dr. Kings Moore | Sheldon Peck | Ammi Phillips | Cephas Thompson
Bishop Hill Primitive Paintings

Olaf Krans, a sign painter in the colony of Bishop Hill, Illinois, painted the originals of these reproductions during the years from 1870 to 1890. He painted from memory and old photographs, on the flour sacking at hand, and graphically told the story of the Bishop Hill Colony. His paintings give a vivid impression and a true one, that the existence and welfare of the colonists defended upon their labor and the graciousness of nature. He takes his Swedish colonist, strips him of superficial detail. molds his clothing into a rigid mass, and the result is a form somewhat resembling the modern art. He delved into the homely human element about him and ennobles it into art. Because he was distant from art centers, thus practically without precedents to guide him, he necessarily depended upon his own instincts and was destined to remain in the primitive stage.

Bishop Hill Colony

The Bishop Hill Colony was founded in 1846 by Eric Jansson, a religious refuge from Sweden, who established the community on a socialistic basis. The wealthy among the flock placed the proceeds of their property in a common fund, and the colony became prosperous through the produce of woven materials, brooms, grain, flax, and beer. They called themselves Janssonists, and along with their communal dining-hall held two-hour daily religious services. In 1850 Jansson was shot and killed in a quarrel with and outsider, and seven trustees took over the direction of the colony. Celibacy was introduced in 1854 and hastened the dissolution of the group. Later, dissatisfaction over money matters broke out, and the communal property was distributed in 1861. At one time the colonists of Bishop Hill numbered 1100. At present there are about 350 residents in the village.

This text was originally published in the exhibition catalog.


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