Page 83 article text (OCR)
Ik SUN by Fred Blumenthal WASHINGTON, D.C W hat's your image of Uncle Sam? If you're like millions of Americans, you probably associate the symbolic figure of America with the famous World War I "I Want You" recruiting poster of James Montgomery Flagg, snowing the old gentleman in his familiar stars-and-stripes top hat pointing a meaningful finger at the onlooker. But, you may be surprised to hear, the official portrait of Uncle Sam isn't like that at all. Instead, it shows a friendly, smiling and benign-looking individual apparently ready to shake hands with all comers. This is- one of Noxon's sketches for the painting's final, official version. That's the picture of Uncle Sam that now hangs in the Great Hall of the Department of Commerce in Washington, where it can be viewed by visitors to Washington during the Bicentennial celebration. The painting is the work of a New York advertising artist named Herbert Noxon, and it dates from 1950. In that year the U.S. State Department decided that it needed a new portrait of Uncle Sam for use in its embassies and consulates around the world. State Department researchers came across some sketches of Sam drawn by Noxon for an ad agency booklet and decided they locked right because the facial expression on the figure was "benign and not sharp and calculating, as Uncle Sam is so often shown." The result was that Noxon, who died in 1971 at the age of 67, was commissioned to make an official painting. Unusual disappearance The sketch shown here was done by Noxon on the stationery of the Connecticut hotel where he was-vacationing when the request came. Somehow, ' Noxon's original painting dropped from sight for 25 years. Last year, in researching a book and film on Uncle Sam, the National Association of Realtors discovered the painting in a Connecticut attic. The association acquired it and had it authenticated by the Smithsonian Institution, which agreed to accept the picture as part of its permanent collection. Probably not one American in 10 knows that the legend of Uncle Sam is based on a real citizen whose life spanned 88 years. Bom in 1766 in eastern Massachusetts, Samuel Wilson witnessed Paul Revere's ride and the skirmish at Concord. He moved with his family to Troy, N.Y., where he spent the rest of his life and was buried in 1854. He was known affectionately as "Uncle Sam" in the area, and, as a pro- visioner to the U.S. Army during the War of 1812, he stamped barrels of beef "U.S." to indicate government ownership. Since those initials had not previously been used to stand for United Â· ^^Â·~-***^^''*^-^"-*'^TM Â·'^=Â» jc ^''*'^^ The official portrait of Uncle Sam as it now hangs in the Great Hall at the Commerce Department. It was painted by Herbert Noxon in 1950 for the State Department. States, the townspeople assumed they meant Uncle Sam, and the legend grew. The world recognized "Uncle Sam" as the nickname'for the United States. But what did he look like? That question was answered in 1851, when ah unknown man took part in a parade in Amesbury, Mass., dressed in red-and-white striped trousers and a high beaver hat, billing himself as "Unde Sam." He had a goatee. The nation's editorial cartoonists and illustrators gratefully grabbed onto the symbol. Soon Uncle Sam became-much more than a name for the U.S. He was a "person" to the whole nation -- a person you could think of as friendly, determined, angry or benign. A1961 Congressional resolution recognized "Unde" Samuel Wilson as the namesake of this, national symbol. Fortunately, unlike our other national symbol--the bald eagle--Unde Sam is not an endangered species.