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The Old Plantation
Artist Artist unknown
Year possibly 1790–1800[1]
Type Watercolor on laid paper[1][2]
Dimensions 29.7 cm × 45.4 cm (11.7 in × 17.9[1] in)
Location Abby Aldrich Rockefeller Folk Art Center
, Williamsburg, Virginia, USA

The Old Plantation is an American folk art watercolor that was likely painted in the late 18th century on a South Carolina plantation.[1][3][4][5]

The painting depicts African American slaves between two small outbuildings of a plantation on a river bend.[1] The Old Plantation is the only known painting of its era that depicts African Americans by themselves, concerned only with each other,[6] though its central activity remains obscure.[1] Some authorities have speculated that the painting depicts a marriage ceremony, with the attendant tradition of jumping the broom.[1] Other scholars have suggested that the subjects are performing a secular dance: the Yoruba of Nigeria traditionally danced barefoot with sticks and scarves, and the headdresses pictured are of West African and perhaps distinctly Yoruban origin.[1]

The painting features two musicians, one of whom is playing a stringed instrument that resembles a Yoruba molo;[1][5][7] the body of this instrument seems to be a hollow gourd.[1] The molo is a precursor to the banjo,[1] and this is the earliest known American painting to picture a banjo-like instrument.[8] The second musician is playing a percussion instrument that may be a Yoruba gudugudu;[1][5][7] others have suggested, however, that he is hitting sticks or bird bones against a hollow gourd.[1]

The painting was purchased for Abby Aldrich Rockefeller from Mary E. Lyles of Columbia, South Carolina, who said that it was painted on a plantation between Charleston and Orangeburg, South Carolina by one of her ancestors.[1] A watermark on the paper has been identified as that used by the English papermaker James Whatman II (1741–1798) between 1777 and 1794.[1] The painting was restored by art conservator Christa Gaehde in 1954–1955, who cleaned the painting, flattened creases, mended tears, filled and inpainted losses in the paper, and added a washi paper backing.[1] The painting is currently held by the Abby Aldrich Rockefeller Folk Art Center in Williamsburg, Virginia.[3]

References

  1. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p Broyles 2000, p. 94.
  2. ^ Mazow 2005, p. 108.
  3. ^ a b Foster 1997, p. 374.
  4. ^ Epstein 1975, p. 354.
  5. ^ a b c Epstein 1975, p. 351.
  6. ^ Bontemps 2001, p. 7.
  7. ^ a b Epstein 1963, p. 202.
  8. ^ Mazow 2005, p. 23.

Works cited

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