National Gallery of Art - THE COLLECTION
image of Cigar Store Indian Cigar Store Indian
Rendered by Henry Tomaszewski (artist), 1938
watercolor, graphite, and colored pencil on paper
overall: 48.9 x 34.4 cm (19 1/4 x 13 9/16 in.) Original IAD Object: 60" High (approx)
Index of American Design
Not on View
From the Tour: Woodcarving from the Index of American Design
Object 6 of 26

Shop figures and trade signs are a form of American folk art that is still in use today for ornamental purposes. The first shop signs, however, were not only decorative, they were a practical aid to those potential customers that could not read. In addition, signs pinpointed the location of a shop before the days of house numbers. Early American streets presented a lively picture of activities with signs such as barber poles, wooden Indians, gloves, clocks, boots, and spectacles calling attention to services or goods offered for sale. Some carvers of shop figures and signs were drawn from among the makers of ship decorations. The shift in emphasis was increasingly felt in the late nineteenth century, when figurehead carvers were being forced out of business with the demise of the clipper ship era. These craftsmen gradually turned to the full-time production of wooden Indians and other signs. The Indian, as the first American to cultivate tobacco, became the traditional symbol for cigar stores. The production of wooden Indians flourished from about 1840 to the end of the century. In the 1890s, city ordinances required that figures be confined to the interiors of shops, and gradually the statues went out of use. This woman, or Pocahontas, as female Indian figures were sometimes called, was made by a particularly capable artisan. The pose of the statue reflects classical or Egyptian inspiration. The figure is elegantly fashioned; the stance seems natural, the costume has been simplified, and the colors are harmonious.

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