Collection Artwork
Kate Ericson (New York, New York, 1955 – 1995, Milanville, Pennsylvania)
Mel Ziegler (born Campbelltown, Pennsylvania, 1956)
Constitution on Tour
model train cars and tracks, sandblasted and painted marble, metal brackets
crate size, train cars and track: 60 x 63 x 13 in.
crate size, marble pieces: 22 x 33 x 28 in.
installed size, stacked: 26 3/4 x 94 5/8 x 4 3/4 in.
track size, full length: 3/4 x 189 1/4 x 3 1/2 in.
each car size: 5 1/8 x 18 3/8 x 4 3/8 in.
Tang purchase
United States, North America

Installation views

Object Labels

A Union Pacific model train travels across a floating track carrying shining pieces of white marble, sandblasted and painted with the words of the United States Constitution. Constitution on Tour was Kate Ericson and Mel Ziegler’s response to a nationwide tour of the Bill of Rights in 1991—the bicentennial of its ratification—sponsored by tobacco giant Philip Morris Co. Presenting the Constitution as a broken pile of marble—the same marble used to construct the Supreme Court building in Washington, DC—the artist duo emphasizes the hypocrisy of a tobacco company touring a document that defines basic human rights. Whose rights are honored when countless Africans were trafficked to the New World to serve the tobacco industry, or when a company’s products literally kill its customers?

Union Pacific was essential to building the transcontinental railroad in the 1860s—a rail that displaced countless Native Americans and resulted in fighting and deaths on both sides. Further, to connect the coasts over dangerous terrain, Chinese and European immigrants labored in unsafe conditions and received inadequate pay.

The United States was built on industries like tobacco and rail, but are they to be applauded for their roles in defining this nation, or scrutinized for controversial histories? To whom has the United States Constitution actually granted free, democratic rights? Whose identities have been, and are, ignored?

From the exhibition: Other Side:
Art, Object, Self (August 12, 2017 – January 3, 2018)

In 1991, Philip Morris Companies, Inc. sponsored a high-profile nationwide tour of an original copy of the Bill of Rights celebrating the bicentennial of its ratification. In response, Ericson and Ziegler imagined an alternative approach to a tour for the document. The artists sandblasted the entire United States Constitution on a sample of the same marble that covers the exterior of the Supreme Court in Washington, DC—the site of the governing body responsible for interpreting the Constitution. This thin slab of marble was broken and the shards were placed into ten Union Pacific model train cars, chosen for that company’s role in creating the transcontinental railroad.

From the exhibition: America Starts Here:
Kate Ericson and Mel Ziegler (October 1 – December 30, 2005)

Ongoing Research

Research on our collection is ongoing. If you have resources you’d like to share, please contact Associate Curator Rebecca McNamara.

Tang Collective Catalog

About 230 years ago, on September 17, 1787, the US Constitution was signed. In Constitution on Tour, the 1991 artwork by Mel Ziegler and Kate Ericson, the artists reconstructed our nation’s arguably most vital document by sandblasting and painting every word onto a slab of marble. They then destroyed it, turning it into hundreds of fragments, which they placed in Union Pacific model trains. You can distinguish a few letters here, a word there, maybe even a phrase. In the days before Constitution Day, looking at this artwork, I wonder, how many of us—we the people, who are responsible for reading, understanding, and upholding (or opposing) these words—know and truly grasp them in their entirety?
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