Depictions of Slavery in Confederate and Southern States
October 20, 2002
By DREW BRACKEN
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
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
"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. "
Sunday, October 20, 2002