America's last Liberty Tree painted onto US one dollar bills. The reverse of each bill carries the same image stamped over George Washington. The work participates in the subversive tradition of marking bank notes with political slogans or cryptic images. The currency gives the art work the chance to circulate within an economy other than through the art market.

This Liberty Tree, Lirodendron Tulipfera (tulip poplar) stood in the grounds St. John's College, Annapolis until 1999 and has a history as old as the Maryland colony. It was already a mature tree, green and flourishing, when Annapolis residents staged their own tea party and burned the vessel "Peggy Stewart". It was in yellow leaf when 4,000 French troops marched through the city to join General Washington at Yorktown in 1781. Standing in wintry silhouette when Lafayette, watching from a specially erected pavilion, attended a review of soldiers on the college green during two days of festivities honouring him in December 1824.

The idea of Liberty embodied in a living tree came from Boston in 1765, when a club called the "Sons of Liberty" met under an elm to hear speeches against the Stamp Act, a tax on newspapers and official documents. The "Sons of Liberty" commissioned silversmith Paul Revere to design a medal for its members that bore the image and the caption "Liberty Tree." While the Stamp Act was repealed, other taxes were imposed which constrained the growth of the colonies. By the mid 1770's, angry citizens were regularly meeting under trees in every port city from Boston to Charleston.

Liberty (installation view), gouache on U.S one dollar notes, dimension variable, with Loom, wool weft cotton warp, 2.5 m dia. 2006
Liberty (detail), gouache on U.S one dollar notes, dimension variable, 2006  
Liberty (detail), ink stamp on U.S one dollar notes, 2006    

Photo Credit: Justine Cooper



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