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Private Law and Order Leagues (study for medallion, Medals for Dishonor series)

ca. 1938-1939 David Smith Born: Decatur, Indiana 1906 Died: Albany, New York 1965 felt-tipped pen and ink (from verso) and pen and ink on paper sight 10 3/4 x 13 3/4 in. (27.3 x 35.0 cm) Smithsonian American Art Museum Museum purchase made possible by Olin Dows 1988.60 Not currently on view

Exhibition Label

In the mid-1930s, Smith began drawings for a series of fifteen relief sculptures he called “Medals for Dishonor,” an ironic reference to the nation’s highest military decoration, the Medal of Honor. Smith believed that groups such as the Ku Klux Klan and the German-American Bund, a pro-Nazi organization, represented fascism in America. In the background of this study, KKK hats mimicking mountains surround a lynching tree, while a cross transforms into a swastika. Although a central theme of this series is women as victims of physical aggression, they do not escape indictment. With her hatchet, Carrie Nation represents the self-righteous zealotry of bigots. Strewn with references to the “wild West,” this vision portrays the horrors of vigilante justice in the guise of law and order.

Graphic Masters II: Highlights from the Smithsonian American Art Museum, 2009


Allegory - civic - injustice

Figure group

History - United States - Black History

Object - other - flag

State of being - death - execution




paper - wove paper