Home of the Red, White, and Blue
Lilly Martin Spencer’s Home of the Red, White, and Blue, painted shortly after the war ended, may appear at first glance a conventional painting of daily life. But Spencer’s work is also complex allegory. The symbolic narrative centers on a mother dressed in white with daughters in red and blue standing together as symbols of female patriotism. A benevolent grandmother in paler blue sits slightly to the rear. The three grown women all wear thimbles on their fingers. Lying on the ground beneath them is an intricately detailed sewing basket and a large US flag, in dire need of mending. The banner’s status as symbol of a nation wounded and still divided is unambiguous, but the thimbles and sewing basket promise that these loyal Union women will make whole what has been torn apart.
Farthest to the left and in shadow sits a bearded man—husband and father—whose uniform and propped crutches identify him as a wounded Union veteran. On the right side, is an assortment of strikingly different characters. A swarthy organ grinder accepts a glass of milk as his monkey begs for a coin. A barefoot girl with a tambourine accompanies him. A red-haired Irish nursemaid carries the youngest child, a postwar baby beribboned in red, white, and blue. These figures represent new immigrants, who pose a threat to the established Anglo-European order symbolized by the family unit at the painting’s center.