In 1776, the American colonies began their fight for life, liberty, and justice, a battle that was fought and won with tremendous support from overseas allies. The French in particular were angered by the expanding British empire and they helped the colonies to realize the first American Dream – independence.
Georg Daniel Flohr was a 20-year-old soldier in the French regiment, the Royal-Deux-Ponts, commanded by General Rochambeau. Although he had little formal education, Flohr immediately began recording his observations about everyday life in the New World with wide-eyed enthusiasm. Fascinated by Native Americans, the role of slaves in the economy, and “dating protocol,” Flohr became an unwitting documentarian and evolved into an amateur sociologist and naturalist. He wrote very little about the war itself, leaving that that to the Generals.
After his tour of duty, Flohr spent two years in Strasbourg creating a 250-page journal with meticulous 18th century script and 30 watercolor paintings based on his field notes and sketches. Scholars at the Médiathèque André Malraux [library], where the journal now resides, have determined that Flohr enhanced his journal with historical and botanical research. His words and illustrations provide us with a series of snapshots from the period and were used by the US National Park Service to plan Colonial Williamsburg.
The Médiathèque in Strasbourg is where our co-curators discovered the journal and recognized immediately that Flohr would be the perfect catalyst for an international artist’s book project. When our proposal for a dual city exhibit was accepted by the Boston/Strasbourg Sister City Association and Alsace Etats-Unis, The Ex Libris Exchange project was born.
Artists from Boston and Strasbourg were invited to participate in the exchange. After receiving a set of scans, and an annotated translation of the journal, each artist embarked on an individual voyage to create a book and poster inspired by Georg Daniel Flohr. The artists delved into topics that Flohr’s work introduced or implied including patriotism and ex-patriotism, travel, and meditations on a life as a journey. They used etching, wood cut, image transfer, letter press, collage, photography and painting to engage with a voice from the past.
Georg Daniel Flohr’s legacy has resonance for all, but particularly for artists, who are among the world’s observers, chroniclers, and correspondents. This exchange seeks to celebrate these traditions.
Exhibitions of our books and accompanying maps are planned for Boston in October-November, 2016, and for Strasbourg in April-June, 2017.