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Object of the Week: The Peaceable Kingdom, by Edward Hicks

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Originally trained as a coach painter, Quaker minister Edward Hicks is best remembered for his iconic series of Peaceable Kingdom paintings, which depict a biblical prophecy in the Book of Isaiah: “The wolf also shall dwell with the lamb, and the leopard shall lie down with the kid; and the calf and the young lion and the fatling together; and a little child shall lead them.” Hicks likely viewed the prophecy as a central and concise statement of key Quaker principles, with each animal representing moral and religious beliefs as well as traits of human nature.

Several of the Peaceable Kingdom scenes, including the version in the Everson’s collection, feature a vignette of the seventeenth century Quaker William Penn negotiating a peace treaty with the Lenape. Penn introduced Quakerism into Pennsylvania, which Hicks may have viewed as bringing about a modern day peaceable kingdom to his home state. Hicks painted his first Peaceable Kingdom in 1820, and over the next twenty-nine years, he painted over one hundred additional versions, which he typically gifted to family and friends. Sixty-two of these paintings survive today.

The Everson acquired its Peaceable Kingdom in 1978 after a successful fundraising campaign that raised approximately $200,000. The painting first went on view at the Everson in the exhibition Panorama of American Art, which opened in the summer of 1976. Hicks’s painting, along with seventeen others in the exhibition, were advertised to the public as potential works the Everson could purchase. Throughout the exhibition’s run, Museum visitors voted for the painting they hoped the Everson would buy. Casting a vote cost $1, and all the money raised went towards the eventual purchase. At the end of the exhibition, the Everson revealed that The Peaceable Kingdom won in a landslide vote and embarked on a two-year fundraiser to purchase the painting.

Similar to the Buy George campaign, the entire Central New York community enthusiastically participated in the fundraiser. Posters with the taglines “Please adopt us. It’s a jungle out there” and “Help keep Peaceable at Everson Museum” were placed all over the county alongside donation boxes. In 1977, the Museum commissioned a local potter to design five ceramic tiles inspired by the painting. Moravian Pottery and Tile Works produced the tiles, which the Everson sold as part of the fundraiser. The Museum also held a coloring contest that year, and awarded gift certificates to Shoppingtown Mall as prizes for different age groups.

To further drum up interest, in January of 1978, the Everson opened the The Animal Kingdom in American Art with The Peaceable Kingdom as the exhibition’s centerpiece. Volunteers sold catalogs and other memorabilia relating to the painting, and the proceeds went towards the campaign. A television commercial featuring the animals in the painting coming to life, t-shirt sales, scholarly lectures, and even a day at the Rosamond Gifford Zoo all contributed to the fundraiser.

The campaign reached its $200,000 goal in June of 1978, nearly six months ahead of schedule. To celebrate, Syracuse Mayor Lee Alexander declared June 6, 1978, to be Peaceable Kingdom Day with an official City of Syracuse proclamation. The Everson held a party the same day on the Community Plaza, launching two hot air balloons with posters featuring the painting attached to their baskets.

The Peaceable Kingdom is currently on display in the exhibition Time Capsule (on view through December 30, 2018), alongside memorabilia, photographs, and ephemera from the fundraising campaign.

-Steffi Chappell, Curatorial Assistant

Image captions

  • Edward Hicks, The Peaceable Kingdom, ca. 1840-1844, oil on wood panel, Everson Museum of Art; Museum purchase with contributions from the community and friends of Syracuse and Onondaga County, 78.19
  • Peaceable Kingdom fundraiser brochure
  • Peaceable Kingdom coloring contest
  • Photograph of Peaceable Kingdom Day at the Everson Museum of Art, June 6, 1978