How John Y. Wind uses art to revolutionize history

John Y. Wind
Pennsylvania from ‘Whiskey Rebellion’ by John Y. Wind is pictured.

This Pride Month, a special exhibition from artist John Y. Wind will be showcased at the Museum of the American Revolution, and it recontextualizes the way we view issues of masculinity, heroism and more through a historically unique lens.

‘Whiskey Rebellion’ was born out of Wind’s decades-long career as an artist, which first started with his own “modern vintage creations” aka jewelry (which he still sells online to this day at, but as time went on, Wind went on to explore other avenues of creativity to tell stories—and more so with fine art.

Philadelphians may have caught Wind’s work in the past both at InLiquid Art Gallery with ‘The Making of a Modern Man’ in 2013, and with ‘Whiskey Rebellion’ at the Hyatt Centric Center City hotel through a monthly artist-in-residence program in 2022. With this new installation at the MoAR however, this occasion will be a first for the artist.

John Y. Wind
Von Steuben from ‘Whiskey Rebellion’ by John Y. Wind

“This show coming up with the Museum of the American Revolution, I really feel like it’s such a gratifying milestone for me because after the last decade of momentum, this is the first time I’m having a solo show in an art museum or in a museum,” says Wind. ” In this particular case, it was the work that sort of insisted that the Museum of the American Revolution really see [it], because I know that their goal is to tell a more inclusive and expanded story of the Revolution.”

The work includes figurative whiskey decanters from the 1960s and 70s that Wind caught wind of through his fiance’s godmother. As he notes, the figures at the time were targeted mostly to middle-class American men with a little extra cash in their pockets who would collect these pieces to display them on shelves in their rec room bars or in their basements in the new suburbs of post-War America.

“The ones that really spoke to me were these iconic male heroes, soldiers [and] presidents. And in particular, there was a series of heroes of the American Revolution, including both the leadership—Washington, Jefferson and Benjamin Franklin—and then the soldiers, these regimental soldiers of young men from Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Delaware, and New York,” says Wind.

The artist then went to work on about 20 pieces from the collection and created what locals will see on display this month: Aka he tells a contemporary story and puts himself into the decanters to try to make them relatable, while also questioning this notion of heroism.

“Were they really heroes by our standards? How did they feel about gay people, women, Blacks, gun control, anything that me. as a liberal urban guy, values. We probably weren’t on the same page,” Wind explains. “Now of course, it was a different time. The values were different, and you can’t impose today’s value system on the past. But at the same time, especially as an artist, you can’t just ignore it or you don’t need to ignore it. My goal was with a light touch and some humor—which I always like to use in my work.”

John Y. Wind
Jefferson from ‘Whiskey Rebellion’ by John Y. WindMoAR

Wind took these decanters of military heroes peppered with all kinds of ribbons, medals and the jewelry of uniforms, and played around with those elements to turn them into his own sculptures. One piece is of a Prussian military hero called Baron von Steuben, and it plays into the history that he was openly gay and was ostracized for it, until George Washington brought him on to help with the Revolution out of desperation.

So while Jim Beam (the brand made the original whiskey decanters) made him out to be a cut-and-dry military hero of the war, Wind added Pride flags and buttons to suggest he’s out and proud in an artful attempt to show all facets of his personality.

“For the last 10 years, a big part of my art making has been thinking about monuments and what makes a monument and how do we modernize them? How do we make them more inclusive and welcoming?”

Wind continued: “It’s more about using objects to tell our stories. I wanted to make these [pieces] less about these heroes and more relatable and more honest and more personal [so] that I could see myself in them, but also, that you and any viewer would see yourselves in it and raise some questions about history and what makes these people heroes in historical terms.”

‘Whiskey Rebellion’ at the MoAR will also feature figures like Betsy Ross, Molly Pitcher, young soldiers and other historical figures with the notion that we in the present can reinterpret history with the added benefit of hindsight. Wind is just giving us that extra push. The artist also noted other work in the city with organizations like the Monument Lab have the same objective, and of course, the MoAR.

John Y. Wind
Von Steuben from ‘Whiskey Rebellion’ by John Y. WindMoAR

“It’s just so cool that they had this vision and that they got my vision and that they embraced it and that it dovetailed with how they see the museum and how they want to present to the public,” finishes Wind. “It might ruffle a few feathers because I am pro-everything in this show, very liberal. But I think that they’re an incredible institution because it could be so easy for people to approach it from an old-fashioned, both boring and traditional narrative. And this is not that.”

Philadelphians can catch John Y. Wind himself with ‘Whiskey Rebellion on June 22 beginning at 11:15 a.m. for an artist talk, or catch the exhibit throughout Pride Month at the Museum (101 S 3rd St,) in the second-floor Oneida Indian Nation Atrium. For more information, visit