Individuals of the Jewish faith have fully integrated themselves into American public and popular culture. However, this wasn’t always the case, and the Princeton University Art Museum has recently mounted a show that delves into creative products of Jews in America during “the crucible years after the birth of the United States.”
During a period when personal liberties and freedoms are at an all-time high, it’s hard to imagine that at the birth of the United States, people of the Jewish faith were not accustomed to speaking for and about themselves in the public arena. An exciting exhibition has recently opened at the Princeton University Art Museum that features an eclectic range of objects produced by Jews during the late 18th and 19th centuries.
“By Dawn’s Early Light: Jewish Contributions to American Culture from the Nation’s Founding to the Civil War” will showcase “more than 160 books, maps, manuscripts, prints, and paintings, including some of the earliest novels, plays, scientific treatises, and religious works by Jews in the United States,” the museum writes.
“By Dawn’s Early Light” tells the fascinating tale of how Jewish culture evolved and assimilated into the budding American culture during these formative years. The museum suggests, “As the United States started its grand experiment with liberty, and began to invent a culture of its own, Jews, too, began a grand experiment of living as equals. In a society that promised exceptional freedom, this was both liberating and confounding. As individuals, they were free to participate as full citizens in the hurly-burly of the new nation’s political and social life. But as members of a group that sought to remain distinctive, freedom was daunting. In response to the challenges of liberty, Jews adopted and adapted American and Jewish artistic idioms to express themselves in new ways as Americans and as Jews. In the process, they invented American Jewish culture, and contributed to the flowering of American culture during the earliest days of the Republic.”
“By Dawn’s Early Light: Jewish Contributions to American Culture from the Nation’s Founding to the Civil War” opened on February 13 and will hang through June 12. To learn more, visit the Princeton University Art Museum.
This article was featured in Fine Art Today, a weekly e-newsletter from Fine Art Connoisseur magazine. To start receiving Fine Art Today for free, click here.

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Andrew Webster is the former Editor of Fine Art Today and worked as an editorial and creative marketing assistant for Streamline Publishing. Andrew graduated from The University of North Carolina at Asheville with a B.A. in Art History and Ceramics. He then moved on to the University of Oregon, where he completed an M.A. in Art History. Studying under scholar Kathleen Nicholson, he completed a thesis project that investigated the peculiar practice of embedded self-portraiture within Christian imagery during the 15th and early 16th centuries in Italy.


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