Joseph Russell Shoemaker (1795–1860),
Joseph Russell Shoemaker (1795–1860), "Dining Room of Abm Russell, New Bedford," 1848–54, watercolor on paper, 18 x 15 x 3/4 in. (framed), New Bedford Whaling Museum, Massachusetts, gift of Mrs. Edward K. Sampson, 1962.4.13

Located in New York City, the American Folk Art Museum has won praise for its exhibition,  “Unnamed Figures: Black Presence and Absence in the Early American North,” which closed there this March. Now Historic Deerfield, the second and only other venue for this ground-breaking show, is expecting crowds throughout the run there.

Despite their importance, the experiences and contributions of Black people have generally been invisible in our country’s historical artworks. Slavery and racism were not uniquely Southern problems, as can be seen in this exhibition’s 97 works, which include paintings, needlework, ceramics, and photographs. Selected by co-curators Emelie Gevalt, RL Watson, and Sadé Ayorinde, they encourage visitors to consider who appears in these images — and who has been omitted.

Curatorial department director Amanda Lange says that Unnamed Figures  “will significantly expand the conversation around His-toric Deerfield’s collection and regional history… [It] may also change the way visitors view our museum’s permanent collections for years to come. Several objects from Historic Deerfield were added to the exhibition for this venue, including a cornice plane made by Black craftsman Cesar Chelor of Wrentham, Massachusetts, a 1793 copy of Phillis Wheatley’s Poems on Various Subjects, Religious and Moral, and a recent acquisition of an 1818 ‘Bobolition’ broad-side with a Greenfield, Massachusetts, imprint, among others.”

Historic Deerfield is a museum of early American life situated in an authentic 18th-century New England village in the Connecticut River Valley. In 2022, it partnered with the Witness Stones Project to install 19 memorials at properties along Old Main Street, sharing names and information about the lives of Deerfield’s enslaved residents.

At a Glance:
Unnamed Figures
American Folk Art Museum
Deerfield, Massachusetts
Through August 4, 2024


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