Beginning Memorial Day weekend, visitors to the museum will have the opportunity to see a rare 1823 engraved facsimile of the Declaration of Independence, thanks to the generosity of Mayor Greg Fischer and the City of Louisville. The document was donated to Jefferson county in 1986 by William P. Mulloy & Sons.
The Declaration of Independence is a national icon. Drafted by a young Thomas Jefferson and adopted by the Second Continental Congress on July 4, 1776, the text eloquently and succinctly outlined the colonies’ grievances with the British crown and declared our nation’s independence. Following ratification of the Declaration, Congress ordered an “engrossed” or final version of the document be produced on vellum and signed by all its members, which is now housed at the Library of Congress in Washington, D. C.
Within decades, however, concerns began to arise about the deterioration of the original document and that signatures were beginning to fade. In response, Secretary of State John Quincy Adams commissioned William J. Stone in 1820 to create a copperplate engraving that faithfully reproduced the original document and its 56 signatures. Stone printed 201 copies on vellum or animal skin. He kept one copy for himself and the rest were distributed among the surviving signers (Adams, Jefferson, and Charles Carroll), the president and vice-president, various governmental departments, governors and legislators of each state, colleges and universities, and the Marquis de Lafayette. Only 31 copies are known to survive. The Louisville impression of the Stone Declaration of Independence is thought to be one of five copies originally given to the governor of Maine.
Complementing the display of this historic document will be works by contemporary artists. In 1974, two years prior to America’s bicentennial, the Lorillard Tobacco Company initiated an art project to celebrate the 200th anniversary of the adoption of the Declaration of Independence. The company invited twelve leading American artists to interpret visually the question, “What does independence mean to me?” Featured are lithographs and screenprints by artists such as Robert Indiana, Jacob Lawrence, Larry Rivers, and Fritz Scholder. Each artist was free to choose his or her subject and the method of execution. The resulting portfolio represents the rich diversity of American art and reflects a variety of aesthetic styles and art movements, from Pop Art to Photo-Realism.