Speed Museum Independence Exhibit Includes Rare Declaration Replica

Visitors to the Speed Art Museum will get a bonus history lesson this summer. A rare limited edition 19th century copy of the original Declaration of Independence will go on display in an independence-themed exhibit Saturday.

By 1820, the original Declaration of Independence had already started to deteriorate. Secretary of State John Quincy Adams commissioned a copperplate engraving of the handwritten document from William J. Stone, who made about 200 copies on vellum.

Louisville Metro government owns one of 31 known surviving Stone replicas and has loaned the document to the Speed Art Museum.

Speed curator Kim Spence says seeing a full-scale replica can make the Declaration of Independence feel more real for visitors.

“We’ve often seen the Declaration reproduced in textbooks or on paper, but I think what is really special is being able to see it in full-scale replica. I think most people would be surprised at how large the document is and to see the unique signatures of all the signers.”

The museum will exhibit the Declaration alongside the Kent Bicentennial Portfolio, a selection of 11 contemporary artworks representing a range of art movements. Spence says the replica of the declaration adds historical context to the museum’s bicentennial pieces.

“We have this rich, diverse group of artists, from Jacob Lawrence to Larry Rivers to Robert Indiana, who are doing their own interpretation on the theme of independence,” says Spence. “These were in our own collection, so it seemed to be the perfect complement to bring together the declaration of independence and these contemporary prints.”

The exhibit runs through July 15.

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