Builders of America

The themes of consumption, commerce, and control connect virtually all early American material culture to slavery. They demonstrate that the story of enslavement is always present in collections like Winterthur’s, even when not immediately visible. However, these broad, international forces can obscure the experience of slavery at the human level. Objects can remind us of the critical contributions of enslaved makers to collections of decorative arts.

Free and enslaved African Americans played formative and influential roles in building early America. Artisans working in trades from cabinetmaking to pottery to blacksmithing crafted the objects that shaped culture, fueled commerce, and expressed their makers’ own voices. As an online supplement to the exhibition, featured here are objects from the Winterthur collection that were created by makers of color whose works survive to tell their stories.

Banner image citation: Jar detail, Thomas W. Commeraw (var. Thomas H. Commereau), New York, New York, 1791-1798, Salt-glazed stoneware, Bequest of Henry Francis du Pont, 1959.1751