Amateur Artists

Apron Design

Apron Design, 1800-1820

Probably United States

Special Acquisitions Fund, 80.13

Photograph by David Bohl


On occasion Masons drew pictures of symbols, scenes and ritual objects when communicating with their brethren. This watercolor, which may have been enclosed in a letter, shows the design of an apron. This design includes symbols—such as the rooster, lion and eagle—that helped illustrate lessons taught in the higher degrees, now known as the York and Scottish Rites. Scholars have speculated that the painter who drew this design was copying the iconography of a French apron.     

Along with professional artists who earned their living executing different kinds of painting for lodges and chapters, many amateur artists helped express ideas and concepts in Freemasonry. Some were members, like Israel Thorndike Hunt (1841-1905), who illustrated regalia and meeting room decorations to communicate details about these arrangements to his brethren. Other amateur artists had a close association with a member, like schoolgirl Martha Harding (1813-1841). She illustrated Royal Arch records with delicate watercolors, likely at the request of her father, who belonged to the organization. Both professional and amateur artists helped lodges undertake their work and celebrate accomplishments, and, in doing so, they left a rich visual record.