shows Old South's slavery images
Web posted Thursday, May 22, 2003
Morris News Service
- Artist John W. Jones almost missed the inspiration for the work that
now brings him fame.
Army veteran was working in a blueprint shop seven years ago when a
customer asked him to enlarge a $10 bill issued in 1853 by a private
South Carolina bank.
executed what was an everyday task for him, he suddenly noticed a small
image of black slaves on the bill.
seen Confederate money before," said the freelance artist, who is a
descendant of slaves, "but I never really paid attention to what was on
the next year, Mr. Jones immersed himself in the history of Southern
money, traveling to see private collections and purchasing antique paper
bills on the Internet and at flea markets.
area of interest focused largely on money issued in Southern states
between 1850 and 1865, the year the Civil War drew to a close and all
Southern money was rendered useless.
Jones was amazed by the currency's depiction of American slaves: happily
picking cotton, smiling broadly under the hot sun.
were deliberately done by the South to promote to the North that slavery
wasn't as bad as it seemed to be," said Mr. Jones, 53, a South Carolina
native. It was then that he decided to reproduce the images in a series
of enlarged acrylic-on-canvas paintings, using a full spectrum of color
not available to 19th-century printers.
history. It's history that has been hidden for many years," Mr. Jones
said. "I'm not trying to make this grand statement. It speaks for
itself. This is not revisionist history. This has been on that money for
a long time."
than two dozen of Mr. Jones' works will be on display at the Martin
Luther King Jr. National Historic Site in downtown Atlanta until Dec.
exhibit, Confederate Currency: The Color of Money, includes several
decades worth of Southern bank note images from such locales as
Savannah, Ga.; Charleston, S.C.; Richmond, Va.; and Tallahassee, Fla.
The collection includes the oldest known currency ever to feature black
Americans: a $5 bill issued in 1820 by the Farmers & Merchants Bank of
Mr. Jones has made 87 paintings. His buyers, including rap music mogul
Russell Simons, have offered as much as $7,000 to own one of the works.
careful look at the collection shows how the slave art evolved over the
decades before the Civil War.
initial bills from Augusta offer a snapshot from a seemingly typical day
on a Southern cotton farm. Slaves work the ground, devoid of almost any
emotion - showing neither joy nor pain.
years later, as the acquisition of Western territories fueled the debate
over slavery, the Southern money began to show blacks with different
attitudes. Strong, robust black women easily carried cotton bales as if
they were loaves of bread. Children frolicked with their parents as they
worked the fields. Smiles and sunshine are ubiquitous.
never see slave children being sold, or slaves being whipped," Mr. Jones