Depictions of Slavery in Confederate and Southern States Currency
Original Acrylic on Canvas Paintings by

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Sunday, October 20, 2002  

The color of money
Artist tells story with Confederate currency

Advocate Correspondent

GRANVILLE -- Renowned artist John W. Jones brought his unusual work to Denison University Saturday as part of the conference on "Race, Class and Gender in the New Millennium."

Jones paints images from old Confederate money -- images so small they are often unnoticed. They're images of slavery, cotton, and the importance of the two in the antebellum South.

"I was shocked because I'd never seen this before and I'm from the South," Jones said. "I've seen Confederate money and I never paid any attention to it until someone brought one into a blueprint company where I was working and he asked me to blow it up. When I blew it up I realized there were slaves on it. I'd never seen that before."

Jones began to gather as much Confederate currency as he could find. He bought much of it on the Internet, sometimes paying as much as $250 for one piece of currency. He bought others wherever he could until he had a collection of about 120 images. Then he painted about 80 different paintings based on the images.

"I thought it was an important story that needed to be told," he said. "Cultures tend to put on their currencies things that are important to them. Obviously slavery and cotton were very important to the south. Otherwise why would they put this on their money? There aren't any African-Americans on any money today so there was a very profound reason why they did it during the antebellum period."

Jones was an illustrator in the Washington area for 10 years before he moved back to his hometown of Charleston, S.C.. That's where he found the images and that's where he does his work. Dr. Betty Lovelace, director of multi-cultural affairs at Denison, saw Jones' work at his Charleston studio several years ago. "This currency talks about America as it were being built on the backs of slaves," she said. "When I saw some of John's work in South Carolina it intrigued me. It just opened up a whole new world in terms of our understanding of how race and more specifically slavery played so much in the shaping of America."

It opened up a whole new world for Jones as well. "It's changed my life dramatically," he said. "Never in my wildest dreams did I ever figure Confederate money would be so important to me."

Jones' research shows Confederate money had African-American images in 1820, then there was a 30 year lull when there were no African-Americans on any currency, then it started again in 1850.

"It's telling a story the Confederacy wanted you to see and that's that slavery was not bad," Jones said. "It speaks volumes as to how important slavery and cotton were to the South. This is a very little known fact. In fact I've never seen in any history books anywhere. I just thank God I was in the right place at the right time to see it."

Ninety-nine percent of his original paintings are already sold. Lithographs are available for $195 and up. Jones also sells a book with all of his images called "The Color of Money: Images of Slavery in Confederate and Southern States Currency. "

Originally published Sunday, October 20, 2002