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Beautiful Possibility

Alison Pebworth

Aug 29, 2012 – Oct 13, 2012
In the Main Space

Beautiful Possibility is a traveling exhibition and research project by Alison Pebworth that takes the prototype of the 19th century American Traveling show as inspiration for engaging others about what it means to be American. Two pre-scheduled tours follow a “reverse migration” of Manifest Destiny from west to east coasts across the northern United States and southern Canada. The project launched from Southern Exposure in San Francisco in March 2010 and toured from California to South Dakota in the seven months that followed. A second tour commenced in April, 2012, to arrive in Maine in September.

The traveling exhibition consists of a series of hand painted canvas banners, a tour map and a survey station. Pebworth physically tours the show, living in a travel trailer for this solo journey, playfully assuming multiple roles as historian, field sergeant or conjurer to present her work.  As an explorer she mines the remnants of 19th century expansionism in the people and landscapes for new possibilities for defining who we are.

The Exhibition:

Inspired by serendipitous encounters with hidden histories from her previous cross-country tours in 2006 and 2010, Pebworth “re-tells” American history in the painted banners she exhibits by mixing eras, integrating obscure and popular figures and linking historic myths and contemporary culture into unifying narratives. Drawing upon the nostalgic allure of the circus and Wild West show posters she headlines the narratives with enigmatic phrases in elaborate fonts to provoke curiosity and invite dialog. Also on exhibit is the Neo-Pilgrim’s Road Map to Lost America, a large painted map that replaces contemporary state and national borders of North America with pre-European native territories, overlaid with the contemporary highway system. The Beautiful Possibility Tour route is documented on this map as it progresses. 

The survey station centers on illuminating a once popular but now forgotten nervous condition known as “Americanitis,” first described in 1861 by neurologist George M. Beard and later exploited by Medicine Shows that peddled Americanitis Elixirs to “relieve stress and calm the nerves.” From coast to coast, in rural and urban settings, survey participants weigh in on whether Americanitis is a recognizable ailment today and opine on possible causes, symptoms, and cures.

The Beautiful Possibility Project is supported in part through Planning and Implementation grants from the Center for Cultural Innovation, a San Francisco Arts Commission Cultural Equity Grant and Southern Exposure.

Visit to follow the journey.

Read the Maine Sunday Telegram review here.