Landscape of Slavery: The Plantation in American Art

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Overview

Bridging art history and social history, Landscape of Slavery undertakes an original study of plantation images from the eighteenth century through the present to unravel the realities and mythology inherent in this complex and often provocative subject. Through eighty-three color plates, nineteen black-and-white illustrations, and six thematic essays, the collection examines depictions of plantation structures, plantation views, and related slave imagery and art in the context of the American landscape tradition, addressing the impact of these works on race relations in the United States. Created by artists as diverse as Thomas Coram, Louis Rémy Mignot, Dave "The Potter" Drake, Eastman Johnson, Winslow Homer, Alice Ravenel Huger Smith, Thomas Hart Benton, Hale Woodruff, Aaron Douglas, Juan Logan, Joyce Scott, Carrie Mae Weems, Radcliffe Bailey, and Kara Walker, the wide range of objects discussed includes paintings, drawings, photographs, statuary, ceramics, and items of folk art.

A genre predominantly tied to the American South, the plantation view has received slight attention in the study of American landscape art. Regarded by art historians as derivative of the early-eighteenth-century British estate view, the plantation image straddles the aesthetic boundary between topographical depiction and landscape painting. In recent years, however, plantation views have increasingly attracted the attention of social and cultural historians who have identified the genre as a rich source for exploring themes of wealth, power, race, memory, nostalgia, and conflict. Landscape of Slavery provides a comprehensive and interdisciplinary examination of the aesthetic motives and socialuses of this art in the shaping of Southern history and culture. The contributors analyze depictions of white dominion, Southern affluence, and the idealizing nostalgia of the post-Civil War era as well as the black aesthetic that has developed as a dissident counterpoint to this tradition.

Serving as a companion to a traveling exhibit of the same name, the volume includes a foreword by Todd D. Smith, executive director of the Gibbes Museum of Art in Charleston, South Carolina; an introduction by editor and chief curator Angela D. Mack; and essays by John Michael Vlach, Roberta Sokolitz, Leslie King-Hammond, Maurie D. McInnis, Alexis L. Boylan, and Michael D. Harris.
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What People Are Saying

William R. Ferris
"Landscape of Slavery is a landmark study that shows how the plantation has endured in the American consciousness as a nostalgic memory for whites and as an open wound for blacks. For more than three centuries, artists have captured the plantation in works that are both profoundly moving and deeply disturbing. Through their art, this Janus-faced memory of the American South and its black and white people touches our heart, as if three centuries were only a moment past. The images in this collection and the eloquent essays that accompany them remind us that our memory of the plantation is contested along racial lines that continue to divide our nation."--(William R. Ferris, senior associate director, Center for the Study of the American South, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill)
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781570037191
  • Publisher: University of South Carolina Press
  • Publication date: 1/28/2008
  • Pages: 166
  • Product dimensions: 9.60 (w) x 11.00 (h) x 0.80 (d)

Meet the Author

Angela D. Mack is chief curator at the Gibbes Museum of Art. She has served as curator for numerous exhibitions and written or edited accompanying catalogs. Among her recent exhibitions are In Pursuit of Refinement: Charlestonians Abroad: 1740-1860; Henry Benbridge (1743-1812): Charleston Painter; and Edward Hopper in Charleston.

Steven G. Hoffius is a freelance writer and editor in Charleston. A graduate of Duke University, he has served as publications director for the South Carolina Historical Society.
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  • Anonymous

    Posted March 22, 2008

    Will enrich your next visit to the landscape gallery

    As is my habit with art books, I leafed through to view the images before reading the text. The bucolic scenes transported me back to a genteel time, when American was young and rich and full of promise. Which is precisely the dilemma of plantation art. Typically hung in the landscape section of galleries, it reinforces the seductive myth of the Antebellum South as paradise lost. But in reality plantations were slave labor camps, and mostly absent from the paintings are the slaves upon whose labor the plantation rested and who, when depicted at all, are merely quaint accents or contented pets of benevolent masters. LANDSCAPE OF SLAVERY serves as a companion to a traveling exhibit of the same name organized by the Gibbes Museum of Art and the Carolina Art Association. It explores the complex and incompatible experiences of plantation life represented in works by diverse artists, from picturesque painters such as Thomas Coram through Winslow Homer (who, as Michael D. Harris writes, appears to have been 'more sensitive to different notions evoked by the word `plantation'') to Hale Woodruff whose work is full of rage. All of the essays provide thought-provoking commentary on this complex dynamic. 'Picturing the Plantation' provides an overview of the landscape tradition and the idealizing vocabulary, while 'Identifying Spaces of Blackness' explores the African aesthetic found in rituals, ceremonies, dance, music and art created by slaves as a means of resistance and survival. 'The Most Famous Plantation of All' about the politics and painting of Mount Vernon sent me to the internet where the web site of the Mount Vernon Estate and Gardens offers this rationale for why the Father of Our Country owned human beings: 'George Washington was born into a world in which slavery was accepted.' Of course, the 'acceptance' of slavery depended upon ones vantage point. Ditto 'nostalgia.' I'd recommend this book to anyone interested in American art in general, and Southern history and culture in particular. It will definitely enrich your next visit to the landscape gallery.

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