Original Print of the U.S. Constitution Headlines Crystal Bridges Exhibition

Text courtesy of Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art

Luke Bryan

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John Dunlap and David Claypool, The Official First Edition of the Constitution, 1787, ink on paper, 16 1/8 x 10 1/8 in Private Collection. Photography courtesy of Southeby's, Inc.

A document at the very heart of our nation’s democracy will be unveiled in Northwest Arkansas this summer. Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art is opening We the People: The Radical Notion of Democracy, placing a rare, original print of the U.S. Constitution — there are just 11 known in the world — in conversation with works of art that provide diverse perspectives on the nation’s founding principles.

Original prints of other founding documents, including the Declaration of Independence, the Articles of Confederation and the proposed Bill of Rights, will also be displayed alongside works by influential historical and contemporary artists, including several new acquisitions, in the museum’s first exhibition organized by Polly Nordstrand, Crystal Bridges’ curator of Native American art. We the People: The Radical Notion of Democracy will be on view from July 2 to Jan. 2, 2023.

The exhibition gives visitors the opportunity — through art — to explore the significance of the world’s longest-surviving written charter of government and reflect on the relevance of the U.S. Constitution in the lives of Americans today. The interplay of artworks spanning three centuries with the nation’s persevering documents acknowledges the long-contested space of rights, justice, and freedom and the important role of artistic expression in the related discourse throughout American history.

“Art has long been a powerful platform for uplifting the inherent ideals of the U.S. Constitution,” said Nordstrand. “We hope visitors see how artists have creatively engaged in the dialogue to demonstrate our rights and the greater aspirations of our nation to seek equality and justice for all.”

The museum’s first curator of Native American art, Nordstrand is leading efforts to build relationships with Native nations, develop the early, modern and contemporary Native American art collection at Crystal Bridges and provide vision for the museum’s Native art program.

Highlighted works in the exhibition include historical paintings such as John Lee Douglas Mathies’s depiction of Seneca leader Red Jacket and John Trumbull’s portrait of Alexander Hamilton, as well as 20th- and 21st-century works by Mark Bradford, Elizabeth Catlett, Jacob Lawrence, Shelley Niro, Roger Shimomura, and others exploring constitutional themes of equality, freedom and justice.

“This is a rare, must-see opportunity to experience such an inspiring and thought-provoking exhibition that speaks to Crystal Bridges’ mission to celebrate the American spirit through powerful art,” said Rod Bigelow, museum executive director and chief diversity and inclusion officer. “The strength of our collection has allowed us to put forward a dynamic and inclusive exhibition that helps us see the ideals of the Constitution anew and envision ways to aspire to them.”

The original print of the Constitution heads to Crystal Bridges following its purchase late last year by Citadel founder and CEO Ken Griffin, who acquired the historic document with the intention of making it accessible to the public. The sale caught the attention of Crystal Bridges Board Chair Olivia Walton, who suggested partnering with Griffin to bring the document to Crystal Bridges first, where it will be on display free of charge.


“I am thrilled to partner with Crystal Bridges to share the founding document of our democracy with visitors from across the country and abroad,” said Griffin. “People of all ages will have the opportunity to explore our Constitution, which ushered in the world’s most radical experiment in representative government at the time. I hope the experience will be enriching and thought-provoking for all who visit.”

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Gilbert Stuart, George Washington {The Constable-Hamilton Portrait), 1797, oil on canvas, 59 x 46 3/4 x 4 1/2 in. Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art, Bentonville, AR 2006.27. Photography by Edward C. Robison III.

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The museum is planning a full suite of educational and public programming to complement the exhibition, including panels, workshops, student tours, teacher resources and programs co-developed with some of the nation’s leading civic education organizations, including the National Constitution Center, Bill of Rights Institute and iCivics, as well as museum-wide activities to coincide with Constitution Day on Sept. 17. A virtual exhibition tour, interactive content and other digital resources will be available on the museum’s website for visitors worldwide to explore and experience the exhibition remotely.

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< Jacob Lawrence, ... is life so dear or peace so sweet as to be purchased at the price of chains and slavery?—Patrick Henry, 1775, Panel 1, 1955, from Struggle: From the History of the American People, 1954-56, egg tempera on hardboard. Collection of Harvey-Ann Ross, 2022 The Jacob and Gwendolyn Knight Lawrence Foundation, Seattle / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York