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Frederick Brown
Stagger Lee
1984
oil
90 x 140 in.
Smithsonian American Art Museum



Stagger Lee was one of the meanest men immortalized in folklore and song—a man who shot down another man because he "stole my good ole Stetson hat." Throughout the legend's many versions, this anti-hero is both feared and revered. In Frederick Brown's interpretation, the pistol-toting Stagger Lee keeps company with a Pilgrim, the Native American, Squanto, a steel worker, and a crucified Christ against a dizzying array of televisions, airplanes, skyscrapers, and New York's historic Fraunces Tavern. Fusing fact with fiction, the painting poses an uneasy relationship between good and evil and past and present in its allusions to American society's complex and mixed nature.