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

Tour Schedule
Critical Acclaim
Press Reviews
Artist Statement
View Exhibition
Exhibition Catalogue
Feedback Form
Your Comments
Public Lectures
Avery Research Center



The Advocate Online Arts

Exhibits show money's ties to art, history


Advocate arts critic

The love of money may be the root of all evil, but money also has an intimate relationship with both art and history. A pair of exhibitions showing in Baton Rouge are vivid demonstrations of using art in money for the purpose of influencing public opinion.

Through history, money has served functions other than as a medium of exchange.

Civil War era currency with intricately engraved images of slavery and its role in American economy are displayed with brilliant contemporary paintings that enlarge and reinterpret the images in a stunning exhibition at Hill Memorial Library on the LSU campus.

Objects and display panels project the history and visual impact of African currency in a Smithsonian traveling exhibit now at Magnolia Mound Plantation.

Both exhibits tell fascinating historical stories while delighting the senses with the use of art in everyday transactions.

The Hill Library exhibits literally dazzle the eye. Painter John W. Jones creates large, colorful pieces that project an idealized vision of slavery. But it's done with a purpose.

His exhibit, Confederate Currency: The Color of Money, demonstrates how the plantation society and financial community viewed slavery -- it was the element that upheld the economy.

Paper currency circulated before and after the Civil War was actually a kind of propaganda, telling the world that slavery was profitable, and that the slaves were happy with their lot in life.

The artist recreates, even re-emphasizes the propaganda elements of currency in his vivid, realistic paintings.

Jones magnifies this picture of prosperity and good will with his strong representations of the delicate engraved scenes on antique currency, and reveals clearly the deception behind the pretty pictures.

The actual currency display, Beyond Face Value, is a carefully preserved collection of rare obsolete 19th century money, assembled by LSU professor Jules d'Hemecourt.

The money is elegantly designed and the message is amazing. The collection recently won Best of Show at the International Paper Money Show in Memphis, and was the inspiration for Jones' paintings.

The double display is fascinating. Study the remarkable and elaborate engravings on the currency, and see them enlarged and dramatized in living color in the paintings. A few engravings feature white workers as well as black, but everyone in Jones' paintings is black -- and always smiling. It makes a powerful point. The haves of the period were trying very hard to maintain their economy and their power by offering a fantasized, whitewashed version of slavery to the rest of the world.

Jones' paintings have been shown at America's Black Holocaust Museum in Milwaukee, Wis.; the Avery Research Center Museum in Charleston, S.C. ; and the African-American Museum and Library in Oakland, Calif. and will travel to the Martin Luther King Jr. National Historical Site in Atlanta when it leaves LSU.

This remarkable exhibit with great historic significance continues through April 6, when it will be a part of the annual LSU Museums' Day campus wide open house from 2 to 5 p.m.

Regular gallery hours are 8 a.m.-5 p.m. Monday-Friday and 9 a.m.-1 p.m. Saturday. It is free and open to the public.

The Artistry of African Currency showing at Magnolia Mound celebrates the art of the different objects that have been used as currency in Africa, and explores the beliefs and customs behind the currency systems in different African countries.

Ten illustrated panels explain the use of materials from cowrie shells to beads to elaborately fashioned metal objects, including forged blades up to 5 feet in length.

Every object focuses on artistry as well as function, and this dual purpose surfaces in every nation's monetary system.

Huge gold earrings, copper alloy collars and bracelets and delicate cowrie shells illustrate the range of materials.

A display in the middle of the small gallery contains a collection of metal, bead and cowrie artifacts from the collection of Marine Capt. Gordon L. Hilbun.

Take time to read the extremely accessible texts on the posters in order to understand the significance of each object, and how the African passion for beauty as well as use has enriched African contributions to the New World.

Magnolia Mound is one of only two museums in Louisiana to display this show, developed by the Smithsonian Institution's National Museum of African Art and circulated by the Smithsonian Institute Traveling Exhibition Service. It was made possible in part by a Project Assistance Grant from the Arts Council of Greater Baton Rouge.

The show continues through March 30, and is free and open to the public in the Museum Store from 10 a.m.-4 p.m. Tuesday-Saturday and 1-4 p.m. Sunday.