THE TENNESSEE STATE MUSEUM WRAPS UP BLACK HISTORY MONTH WITH TWO GROUNDBREAKING GALLERIES
Being that February is Black History Month, there have been concerts, celebrations, commemorations, and memorials to honor African American contributions to Tennessee and the nation. If you’re looking for exhibits that celebrate African American artistic talent and honor the slaves who succeeded in spite of adversity, look no further than the Tennessee State Museum.
A groundbreaking exhibit about the slaves and slaveholders who worked and resided at the Wessyngton Plantation in Vicinity, Tenn. is now on display through Aug. 31. “A Creative Legacy: African American Arts in Tennessee” is also on display at the museum through Aug. 31.
I recently went to the media preview of the galleries opening. Amidst the chattering crowd, I browsed the “Slaves and Slaveholders of Wessyngton Plantation” first. The exhibit highlights the harsh reality of slavery in the South: the cramped and deplorable conditions of the boats that transported the African Americans; the chains the slaves wore around their wrists and necks; and the men, women and children who were auctioned to the highest bidders in public squares.
Slaves depicted include Jenny Blow Washington who has descendants that number in the thousands. She came to Wessyngton with her sister and even though she couldn’t marry, she had a lifelong relationship with a slave named Godfrey Washington as they raised at least nine children. Jenny performed chores at the large Washington house. Other slaves profiled include Daniel Gardner, Frank Washington, Emanuel Washington and Granville Washington.
Make your way to the plantation portion of the exhibit where the mood changes to bright colors, ornate furniture and beautiful porcelain pieces. The multimedia component introduces guests to impersonators of the home’s residents like Jane Washington and her mother-in-law Mary. They supervised the finished clothing for family and salves, food rations for slaves which totaled about 42,000 pounds of pork each year and more.
The last section is called “Legacies” which trace what happened to several of the slaves after the Civil War.
“A Creative Legacy: African American Arts in Tennessee” is a celebration of African American artists and their talents. Feast your eyes on rarely seen works by nationally-acclaimed African American artists like Aaron Douglas, William Edmondson, Bessie Harvey and Greg Ridley. The 46 works by the 16 artists range from paintings, sculptural pieces, printmaking and even furniture. See the easel that Aaron Douglas used to paint a portrait of Gloria Ridley, one of his last works of art.
Have you checked out these two exhibits? What did you think? Let me know in the comments below!