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Who Built the City on the Severn? McGlyn and Momon Share Research About Enslaved Craftspeople

Oct 6, 2020

Bethany J. McGlyn, Sewell C. Biggs Curatorial Fellow at Winterthur Museum, presented Who Built the City on the Severn? Slavery and Craft in Early Annapolis for the Decorative Arts Trust’s September Trust Talk. Bethany joined in conversation with Tiffany Momon, PhD, the founder of the Black Craftspeople Digital Archive. The two shared their work and insight on cultivating research and evidence that highlights the contributions of enslaved craftspeople. 

Bethany’s presentation detailed her scholarship on the role of enslaved craftspeople in the creation of decorative arts in early Annapolis, MD. Famous artisans like Charles Wilson Peale and John Shaw used enslaved labor. Through Bethany’s research, the efforts of the enslaved are acknowledged and given long-overdue credit. Bethany’s work also provides place and voice to enslaved craftsmen who are left out of traditional scholarship such as Moses Williams, a talented silhouette cutter who worked for Peale.  craftsmen like Moses Williams and JEM.

In her lecture, a tall-case clock in the collection of Historic Annapolis exemplifies how objects can be used as evidence of enslaved labor. Reinterpreting objects to understand labor and honor those who contributed to the creation of early American decorative arts is central to her project. She explains the value of her connoisseurial training stating, “To me knowing how a dovetail is made or knowing the strength needed to lay bricks all day there things help me better understand labor. They help me write about not just who was doing work but how they did work, how these specialized skills and knowledge and the kind of bodily memory that enslaved people brought to their work really operated.” 

Tiffany Momon joined Bethany after her presentation to discuss how the study of objects and primary source documents provide evidence to the importance of Black craftspeople in early America. On the impetus for founding Black Craftspeople Digital Archive Tiffany shares, “I wanted a resource to use that moved beyond traditional archives and just the endless collecting and cataloguing of names…I wanted to be able to see these people, and one of the ways I could see these people was through place.” 

The conservation closed with a Q&A. Follow the link below to hear about how each scholar views the role of museums in interpreting Black craftspeople and is creating space for Black women in their research on early American artisans. 

Trust Talks is a new monthly lecture series that features an emerging scholar sharing and discussing their exciting new research with a mentor in the field. The hour-long virtual program includes an emerging scholar lecture, a scholar to scholar conversation, and a Q&A with the program participants. 

View a recording of the program on the Decorative Arts Trust’s YouTube channel

This program was sponsored by the Marie & John Zimmermann Fund. The Decorative Arts Trust thanks program attendees and our members and donors for supporting our efforts to bring this and other programs to interested audiences. 

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