Thomas Hart Benton, The Lost Hunting Ground, 1927-28. From the mural series American Historical Epic, 1920-28. Oil on canvas, 60 1/4 x 42 1/8 in. The Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art, Kansas City, Missouri. Bequest of the artist. Photo by Jamison Miller. © Benton Testamentary Trusts/UMB Bank Trustee/Licensed by VAGA, New York, NY.
The following is a condensed and edited conversation that took place inside the galleries of PEM’s American Epics: Thomas Hart Benton and Hollywood exhibition Thursday, August 6 with PEM’s Curator of American Art Austen Barron Bailly, Curator of Native American Art Karen Kramer and those who participated in the museum’s summer fellowship program for Native Americans pursuing professional museum studies. The 2015 fellows are: Halena Kapuni-Reynolds, Alex Nahwegabow, Ashley Tsosie-Mahieu and Jordan Dresser. The Benton exhibition closes September 7. Read more
In the 17th and 18th centuries, ships large and small carried Europeans from the British Isles, European colonists and American natives from the Eastern Seaboard and the West Indies, Africans from the slave forts, and all sorts of goods across and around the Atlantic and Caribbean, as a British Atlantic empire grew in population, wealth, and exploitation. The ships were the principal technology and most complex and expensive machines of their world—in fact they made that world possible, and thus in time made our own world possible. But in the general course of maritime technological history, the merchant ships of the Atlantic World have not been the subject of much attention, either popular or academic. From a macro perspective, they are considered rather static technology, treading water or marking time between the development of the ocean-going European ship of the late 1400s and the viable steamship and “clipper ship” of the 19th century. But given the dynamism of the British Atlantic World between its tentative establishment and its commercial re-integration after the American Revolution, it is difficult to believe that this core technology was indeed static; perhaps an examination of the continuity and change in British Atlantic ship technology has something to teach us about how this world worked, how technology works in human society, and how our ability to design and build ocean-going watercraft has evolved.
At the Peabody Essex Museum Phillips Library, I found a tea chest and an envelope of gunpowder tea from the nineteenth century. Two Chinese characters 奇種on top indicate that this purplish-red, wooden tea chest stored top-rated Fujian black tea, Qizhong, from China to the United States on the ship Eliza in 1801. The life story of the gunpowder tea is clearer than the chest, thanks to the contributor’s notes on the envelope. Gunpowder (珠茶) is a sort of green tea in the shape of pearls, one of the most popular green teas exported to America. Cherished and treasured by the owners, the time-tarnished chest and the fragile leaves traveled a long way to PEM, witnessing a century-long thriving trade between China and the United States. Read more