Virtual Tour of the New-York Historical Society’s Commeraw Exhibition
EVENTS > VIRTUAL PROGRAMS
Recorded February 2023
In this virtual tour at the New-York Historical Society, Margi Hofer, Senior Vice President and Museum Director, and Allison Robinson, Mellon Foundation Postdoctoral Fellow in Women’s History and Public History, welcome us into their new exhibition Crafting Freedom: The Life and Legacy of Free Black Potter Thomas W. Commeraw.
This tour illuminates the New York potter’s craft as well as the documents that give insight into his biography. Margi and Allison detail how Thomas W. Commeraw (active 1796-1819) marked and decorated his pots, showing examples of his strategies for labeling and ornamentation. He also responded to the needs of particular clients, producing a specific form of stoneware storage jars for local oystermen. Commeraw’s work is placed against the backdrop of New York’s development as a leading metropolis and the other stoneware potters with whom he was competing. Commeraw was politically active and supported the voting rights of other free Black residents, exemplified in a Certificate of Freedom he signed on behalf of Peter Johnson. Commeraw later retired from stoneware production and turned his attention to the American Colonization Society, bringing his family to Sierra Leone, a relocation that produced tragic results. Our guides expertly paint a picture of Commeraw’s important and compelling narrative and the iconic stoneware vessels and documentary history that testify to his career and broader societal contributions.
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The New-York Historical Society received a 2022 Dean F. Failey Grant from the Decorative Arts Trust for this exhibition. For more information about the exhibition, see Margi and Allison’s recent article from The Magazine of the Decorative Arts Trust.