Past Treasure of the Month – March 2008

St. Patrick
Lithograph of St. PatrickOriginal lithograph by Currier and Ives: The Apostle of Ireland, St. Patrick (ca. 1877-1894).
Gift of Dr. Leon Bromberg.

In honor of St. Patrick’s Day on March 17, the Rosenberg Library displayed an original hand-colored lithograph of St. Patrick produced by Currier and Ives as its March Treasure of the Month.

The term “lithograph” comes from the Greek words “lithos,” or “stone”, and “graph”, meaning “to write.” The print-making technique of lithography was first developed in the late 1700s, and by the early 1800s, it had became a popular way to quickly and inexpensively produce art for the masses.

The basic method employed by Currier and Ives involved applying lettering or drawing to a prepared stone using a special crayon that contained a mixture of wax, tallow, shellac, and black pigment. The stone was moistened with water, and then a greasy ink was rolled over the design. The ink adhered only to the areas where the crayon had been applied — not to areas that had been moistened with the water. A sheet of paper was then placed on the stone, and the crayon design was transferred onto it.

Self-described as “Publishers of Cheap and Popular Pictures,” Currier and Ives produced more than one million lithographic prints between 1835 and 1907. These widely appealing images included everyday domestic scenes, winter landscapes, horse races, portraits of people and ships, famous Civil War battles, and political cartoons. Religious and biblical pictures, like the one of St. Patrick, were created in series and were favorites among collectors.

Saint Patrick was born around 385 A.D. and died March 17, 461 A.D. Raised in Scotland to Roman parents, Patrick was captured by a group of Irish pirates when he was about fourteen. He was taken to Ireland where he was enslaved as a sheep herder. Though he grew up practicing the Pagan religion, he later turned to Christianity.

After joining the priesthood and becoming an ordained bishop, he returned to Ireland as a missionary. His powerful preaching brought about the conversion of thousands of Irish people. He is credited with driving snakes out of Ireland, and also with making the shamrock a symbol synonymous with his name. St. Patrick used the three-leaf clover to explain the Christian belief in the Holy Trinity.

Surprisingly, the first St. Patrick’s Day parade was held not in Ireland, but in New York City in the 1760s. Irish immigrants living in the United States continued the tradition of celebrating the religious feast day of their homeland’s patron saint in their new country. March 17th has now become a secular holiday celebrated by people of all heritages and backgrounds. Standard activities include attending parades, eating Irish food, drinking green beer, and wearing green.