McCarl Gallery’s ‘Blood Cotton’ exhibit will explore industry’s legacy of slavery
Exploring aspects of a topic at the forefront of current national discussions, an exhibition titled “Blood Cotton: Legacies of Slavery and Exploitation in the Decorative Textile Industry” will open on July 2 at Saint Vincent College.
The exhibition will continue through Jan. 11 in the Foster and Muriel McCarl Coverlet Gallery on the Unity campus.
“Thousands of visitors to the McCarl Gallery have appreciated the beauty and craftsmanship of woven coverlets and the machinery that produced them. Rarely, however, do we stop to consider the high cost, paid in human lives, of 19th century cotton and textile production in the American South and the industry’s dependence on the enslavement of Africans,” according to a release.
“The exhibit will juxtapose the visual magnificence of woven textiles with the inhumane realities of 19th century cotton manufacture,” the release says.
The gallery houses more than 700 “figured and fancy” jacquard woven bed coverings, most of which dated from 1820 to 1860 and originated in Pennsylvania or surrounding states. More than 300 were donated by the Beaver County couple for whom the gallery is named.
More than beautiful blankets
“People come into the gallery and say, ‘Oh, what a beautiful blanket,’ but they aren’t thinking about the cotton industry and the effect it had on people,” says curator Lauren Churilla. “People think in the 1800s, the north was free and the south had slavery, but without the demand for cotton goods from the north, there wouldn’t have been the same degree of slavery in the south.”
“Blood Cotton” will feature 25 coverlets made by weavers whose names are unknown, Churilla says, to commemorate the labor of the unknown people who toiled in the cotton industry.
The exhibition also will include images and artifacts such as an anti-slavery booklet, tax records and a bill of sale for a slave in Pennsylvania. These additional items have been supplied by the Senator John Heinz History Center, Little Beaver Historical Society and the Library Company of Philadelphia.
Churilla says that people might not realize that, although slavery was abolished early in Pennsylvania, by an 1780 act of the legislature, it did exist.
Raphael Pantalone, an elementary school art teacher in the Greensburg Salem School District, also is creating a mural for the gallery reflecting the theme of the exhibition, Churilla says.
Hors d’oeuvres and wine and coffee bars will be offered during a free opening reception from 5 to 7 p.m. July 2.
Shirley McMarlin is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach her at 724-836-5750, [email protected] or via Twitter @shirley_trib.