Exhibition showcasing Masonic, Odd Fellows art

Art and education in the Hoyt’s newest exhibition, “Mystery & Benevolence: Masonic and Odd Fellows Art”, explores the art and accessories of two fraternal organizations steeped in symbols and coded systems, from special handles, gestures and passwords to ritualized performances that probably come from the Middle Ages.

Exhibition showcasing Masonic and Odd Fellows Art

Secret societies or societies with secrets ?

The exhibition starts on November 8th and runs until January 26th.

To the uninitiated, the intricately painted set pieces and ornate insignia are almost as mysterious as the practices themselves.

But according to the American Folk Art Museum, that mystery was intentional.

The objects on display from the Kendra and Allen Daniel Collection were designed to instil a sense of wonder while embodying a deep trust in community expressed through the bonds of ritual.

The over 80 carvings, textiles, sculptures, and ornaments in the main galleries feature themes of charity, fellowship, labor, passage, and wisdom, as well as brief histories of the influence of Freemasonry and Odd Fellows in America.

In fact, some of America’s Founding Fathers reached the higher levels of Freemasonry, including George Washington, Benjamin Franklin, and Paul Revere.

“There is often a lot of overlap in the symbols used by fraternities, particularly between Masons and Odd Fellows,” said Hoyt executive director Kimberly Koller-Jones, “but there are also differences in the way these are used Symbols manifest that are explored throughout the exhibition.”

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The emblems of the older Masonic order, first established in North America in 1730, are rational, orderly, and abstract.

The emblems of the Odd Fellows, founded in 1819, are somewhat more modern in comparison and more literal in expressing their ideals.

While Masons regarded charity as one of their “great principles” of brotherly love, relief and truth, the Odd Fellows were more explicit in instructing members in their charitable aims, with duties such as burying the dead, relieving those in need, educate visiting the sick and orphans.

Although both fraternities valued ideal behaviours, they have also drawn a lot of criticism due to their exclusivity since their inception.

The cryptic ciphers, rituals, and vows that still bind its members into a system of shared beliefs also shroud them in a secrecy that outsiders often find disconcerting.

Furthermore, the fraternities were developed by and for white men, according to the cultural norms of the time that excluded women and blacks.

The Odd Fellows were the first to form a sister organization in the Daughters of Rebekah in 1851. A black sailor, Peter Ogden, organized the Grand United Order of the Odd Fellows for blacks in America in 1843. Both are also represented in the exhibit.

Distrust almost destroyed these organizations in the 1830s. By the late 1860s, however, interest was sparked by men seeking the close camaraderie they experienced in the post-Civil War military. In fact, almost 200,000 men were initiated into the “golden age” of brotherhood, which lasted into the early 20th century.

Lawrence County was no exception. A supplementary exhibition in Hoyt’s Blair Sculpture Walkway, Fraternity of Brothers: Freemasonry in the Valley of New Castle, on loan from the Scottish Rite Cathedral, examines the regional history of Freemasonry which led to the building of the Scottish Rite Cathedral in 1924-25.

At the end of World War I, nearly 6,000 Freemasons met in the Temple Building in downtown New Castle.

The region’s economic growth encouraged members to consider building a much larger facility. The committee was chaired by the illustrious Brother John Scofield Wallace, the first Commander-in-Chief of the Valley of New Castle.

Several lots were purchased on Lincoln Avenue, then considered some of the finest real estate in the community, and Milwaukee firms RG Schmidt, architect, and SM Seisel, general contractor, were engaged.

The original construction photographs form the core of the Fraternity of Brothers exhibit, accompanied by an impressive collection of certificates, jewellery, furniture, regalia and other artifacts contributed by the senior members of New Castle and the surrounding lodges.

Notable items include an 1821 silk illustration of Masonic symbols, passed down through the generations of Mott Robertson’s family, and the trowel used by Samuel M. Goodyear, RW Grand Master of the Grand Lodge of Pennsylvania, to lay the foundation of the Scottish Rite Cathedral on June 10, 1925.

The opening ceremony drew thousands. It was the largest Masonic temple between New York and Chicago.

Other unexpected connections to the Hoyt have been revealed, such as Alex Crawford Hoyt’s own affiliation as Royal Arch Mason.

“It was rumored that the building, which would normally have faced downtown, was rotated so Crawford could see the front. Although we have since learned that this is not necessarily true, we can demonstrate that a number of Masonic symbols are incorporated into the design of the stained glass bookcase in his former living room.”

For the curious, a series of gallery talks, one-day workshops, tours of the cathedral (including a peek into the lodge rooms) and other activities provide ample opportunities to explore the exhibition’s content in different ways.

While most activities are free, registration is required at www.hoytartcenter.org/masons.

Both exhibits will remain on view at the Hoyt through January 26, 2023. Visiting hours are Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday from 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. and Friday and Saturday from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Admission is free.

Mystery & Benevolence: Masonic and Odd Fellows Folk Art was organized by the American Folk Art Museum, New York from the Kendra and Allan Daniel Collection and is toured by International Arts & Artists, Washington, DC




Nov 8, 2022 – Jan 26, 2023

Photo credit: Artist unidentified, Independent Order of Odd Fellows Bow and Arrows Plaque for First Degree, 1860–1900, Paint and gold leaf on wood, with metal, Collection American Folk Art Museum, New York, Gift of Kendra and Allan Daniel, Photo by José Andrés Ramírez

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