Arch Iconography

July 18, 2019 Posted by: Kathleen Moenster, Assistant Curator

items featuring image of the Gateway Arch
Standing 630 feet above the Mississippi River is St. Louis’s most iconic landmark: the Gateway Arch. Architecturally and historically, the Arch is an engineering triumph and also serves to commemorate Thomas Jefferson, the Louisiana Purchase and pioneers settling the United States.

In contemporary culture, the Gateway Arch is iconographic and is distinctively the symbol of St. Louis. Gateway Arch National Park’s museum collections house a variety of Arch themed objects that may not appear to be historic. Collectively, however, these items represent the importance of the Arch as its image appears on many types of objects used in everyday life. This montage of items includes running shorts, spoons, a bell, an apron, placemats and a liquor bottle. 

The Arch is a cultural symbol of St. Louis and the world. It stands as a symbol of American
freedom just as the Statue of Liberty is to New York City and the Washington Monument is to Washington, D. C. Globally speaking, major world cities vie for the tourist dollar and part of
their draw is to have an iconic symbol of their city that people want to visit. Paris has the Eiffel Tower, and London has Big Ben. St. Louis has the Arch as its identifying icon. 

Icons associated with certain cities carry a meaning.  They tell a story about the associated city and embody a significant cultural, mental and emotional layer about that city. On an emotional level and in our current culture, the image of the Arch can be found on all types of objects as people want to incorporate their love of the monument in everyday life. They are proud of the symbol that represents their home. Some people become collectors of Arch iconography and have large collections of objects.

Collecting contemporary objects that represent a city’s history should be very important in a
museum’s collection policy. Future historians might research these items and realize how the Gateway Arch has always been and will always be a special symbol of St. Louis history and culture. As an icon, a national landmark commemorating Thomas Jefferson’s historic frontier, an architectural wonder, the Arch will always be a revered treasure beloved by St. Louis and its citizens. 

Last updated: July 18, 2019

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