Date of this Version
Published in Textiles and Politics: Textile Society of America 13th Biennial Symposium Proceedings, Washington, DC, September 18- September 22, 2012.
In the decades preceding the civil war, coverlets became popular in white rural American households, often woven by itinerate professional male weavers at the specification of women for use in their homes; these coverlets represent a distinctly American tradition that reflects a rich legacy of Folk textiles. There is a curious set of these coverlets from the well-documented Acacia Collection on exhibit at the Telfair Museum of Art's Owens Thomas House Slave Quarters in Savannah, GA. These textiles are particularly interesting not because of their uniqueness within American textile production in the first half of the 19th century, but because they are attributed, in the context of the museum display, to African American slave production. There is a distinct contrast between the aesthetics of the slave house textiles (bold, hand spun, artisan woven overshot and double weave undulating geometrics) and those of the main house (romantic, polychromatic European imported printed and woven designs). This paper will examine how these textiles arrived in the Acacia Collection, how their placement in the Slave Quarters positions them in a history of African American slaves' material culture when in fact they might have been cast offs from an owner or commissioned by a free woman, and finally, in investigating the politics of preservation aesthetics and exhibition, how appearances resulting from mode of production can shape interpretations of material artifacts' histories.