Thursday, February 25, 2010

Awareness Thursday: African American Folkart

In honor of Black History Month I wanted to showcase and talk about some of the wonderful folkart that African Americans have contributed to our history over the years. The earliest forms of African American folkart were first seen in the early seventeenth century shortly after the African slaves arrived in the American territories. According to an article in by Rebekah Presson Mosby, because of the puritanical atmosphere of the colonial timeperiod, the arts were not regarded as a necessary form of expression but rather as a frivolous endeavor and therefore were rarely encouraged. Rebekah also mentioned that evidence has been found to assure us that high quality fine art portraits were produced during that time by African slaves. Other high quality artisan crafts made by both slaves and freed men includes "practical and decorative artwork—from the ornate iron railings adorning the balconies of New Orleans to fine clothing, silverware, pottery, and woodcarvings." (Arts and Crafts by Rebekah Presson Mosby)

Apparently the one craft at which the black americans most excelled was the art of furniture making. Although most slaveholders probably did not bring slaves to America for the purpose of their artisanship their talents were quickly recognized and many slaves became employed as cobblers, silversmiths, tailors and carpenters among other creative professions. One of my favorite excerpts from the article by Rebekah states the following:
"It is clear that people of African descent distinguished themselves in nearly all art forms—from music to the making of every imaginable type of art and craft—from their first appearance in America. The record regarding early contributions by blacks in the fine arts, such as painting and sculpture, is less well documented. In part, this was because making fine art was often a secret activity for blacks."
Here are a few examples of some of the beautiful craftmanship made my African slaves/African Americans through the ages:
Silver footed cup by Peter Bentzon, first black silversmith in the US
to mark his works with his name. Bentzon was born free c. 1783.

Armoire by Celestin Glapion, c. 1790.
Glapion was a free man of color and furniture maker
in colonial New Orleans.

Joshua Johnson's "Portrait of a Gentleman"
The portrait dates from c. 1805-1810. American Museum in Britain.

{Images from the article by Rebekah Presson Mosby}

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