“There’s an inspiring and wacky solemnity in these organizations—high values reinforced through pageantry and performance in an ecumenical social setting—which deep down must also have been a whole lot of fun. Now it’s as if that foundational Other America, that underpinning of the America we know, has gradually eroded, and here we remain, living in a world that is a mere shell, a movie set, of the world that made our world manifest, that brought it into being, and all we have left are these perplexing masks, banners, and costumes to puzzle over.”
—David Byrne, from the foreword
Featuring more than two hundred outstanding objects gathered from private and public collections, As Above, So Below provides the first comprehensive survey of the rich vein of art created during the “golden age” of the American fraternal society. By the turn of the twentieth century, an estimated 70,000 local lodges affiliated with hundreds of distinct American fraternal societies claimed a combined five and a half million members. It has been estimated that at least 20 percent of the American adult male population belonged to one or more fraternal orders, including the two largest groups, the Freemasons and the Independent Order of Odd Fellows. The esoteric knowledge, visual symbols, and moral teachings revealed to lodge brothers during secret rituals inspired an abundant and expressive body of objects that form an important facet of American folk art.
Lynne Adele and Bruce Lee Webb introduce the reader to fraternal societies and explore the function and meaning of fraternal objects, including paintings and banners, costumes and ceremonial regalia, ritual objects, and an array of idiosyncratic objects that represent a grassroots response to fraternalism. Setting the art in historical context, the authors examine how fraternal societies contributed to American visual culture during this era of burgeoning fraternal activity. Simultaneously entertaining and respectful of the fraternal tradition, As Above, So Below opens lodge room doors and invites the reader to explore the compelling and often misunderstood works from the golden age of fraternity, once largely forgotten and now coveted by collectors.