Alexander Hamilton Exhibition Open at Homewood Museum

Bust of Alexander Hamilton, unknown after Giuseppe Ceracchi, 1790s,
marble, Homewood Museum. (Photo by Phyllis Arbesman Berger)

Alexander Hamilton has been dead for more than 200 years, but more people than ever know his name thanks to his near omnipresence in popular culture over the last decade.

Now Homewood Museum is allowing guests an opportunity to explore the many facets of this fascinating Founding Father in its new exhibition, Alexander Hamilton: The Man Who Made Modern America, on view through March 11.

Combining interpretive panels created by the New-York Historical Society with 30 artworks and artifacts drawn from the Sheridan Libraries and University Museums and private collections, the exhibition examines Hamilton's improbable rise from orphaned immigrant to scholar, soldier, and finally statesman. Among the items on display are a bust of Hamilton dating from the 1790s, early American coinage, portraits of Hamilton, Washington, and other Founding Fathers, and Hamilton’s receipt for a payment of 120 pounds from Aaron Burr, his chief political rival and eventual assassin.

John Vanderlyn (1775-1852), Aaron Burr (1756-1836), 1802. Oil on canvas. New-York Historical Society, Gift of Dr. John E. Stillwell, 1931.58

Speaking of rivals, the exhibition does not shy away from the tumult in Hamilton's personal and professional lives, with one entire display case devoted to parsing his many friends and rivals, including Burr, Washington, Thomas Jefferson, and John Adams.

"As much as Alexander Hamilton was admired and encouraged by George Washington, he was also at odds with his contemporaries about the political system they were trying to create," notes Dr. Julie Rose, the director and curator of Homewood Museum.

Indeed, the exhibition makes clear that Hamilton was a preternaturally talented and passionate individual who did nothing by half-measure—whether that be advocating for the national debt or calling out the hypocrisy of founding a nation on the principles of liberty but permitting slavery.

Dr. Rose thinks it is Hamilton's willingness to address—and ability to embody—the contradictions at the heart of America that makes him such an enduring figure.

"Hamilton has captured our national imagination," says Dr. Rose. "Lin-Manuel Miranda's musical and Ron Chernow's biography have certainly stirred interest in Hamilton in terms of questions about our nation's diversity and our institutions' commitment to inclusivity. So with political discussions about immigration and inclusion and diversity swirling, this exhibition is a wonderful opportunity to engage with issues that the Founding Fathers left unresolved."

United States Flag, ca. 1781. Wool, cotton. New-York Historical Society, X.64

Upcoming programming related to the exhibition includes a talk on Tuesday, February 6, by Tony Award-nominated Broadway producer, director, and writer Mark Bramble. Bramble will discuss the power of dance to tell stories on stage, with examples drawn from his current revivals of 42nd Street and circus spectacle Barnum, plus Lin-Manuel Miranda's hip-hop musical Hamilton.

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