Mystery & Benevolence: Masonic and Odd Fellows Folk Art

Nov 8, 2022Jan 26, 2023

Mystical, evocative, and sometimes simply strange, the art of  fraternal practice is rich in symbols that are oddly familiar yet strikingly uncommon. Through arcane and alluring artifacts, Mystery  and Benevolence brings to light the histories of the Freemasons and the  Independent Order of the Odd Fellows, two fraternal secret societies  with deep roots in American history. The over eighty carvings, textiles,  sculptures, and adornments that constitute this exhibition were used  from the late eighteenth through mid-twentieth centuries, and retain  their clandestine allure to this day.  

Whether regarded as “secret societies” or “societies with secrets,”  American fraternal groups arouse endless curiosity about their  ceremonies, ritualized performances, and recitations. These  practices, many borrowed and adapted from ancient Egypt and  biblical Christianity, are kept hidden from outsiders, and lend an  aura of exclusivity and brotherhood to its members. The “mystery and  privilege” of these brotherhoods are also transmitted through secret  systems of hand grips, gestures, and passwords that are thought to  originate in the Middle Ages. Cryptic symbols, hieroglyphs, rituals,  and vows of secrecy cloak fraternal orders in an opaque otherness  that separates them from society while also binding their members in  a system of shared belief. 

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