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Unnamed Figures: Black Presence and Absence in the Early American North


May 1, 9:30 am
August 4, 4:30 pm
Event Category:


Flynt Center of Early New England Life
37 Old Main Street
Deerfield, MA 01342 United States
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Image: Joseph Shoemaker Russell (American, 1795-1860). Dining Room of Abraham Russell, New Bedford, c. 1840s. Watercolor on paper, 6.5 x 9 in. (16.5 x 22.9 cm.) New Bedford Whaling Museum, Gift of Mrs. Edward K. Simpson, 1962.4.13. Image courtesy of the New Bedford Whaling Museum.

Opening at Historic Deerfield on May 1, 2024

Unnamed Figures: Black Presence and Absence in the Early American North will be on view at Historic Deerfield’s Flynt Center from May 1 to August 4, 2024.

As a corrective to histories that define slavery and anti-Black racism as a largely Southern issue, this exhibition offers a new window onto Black representation in a region that is often overlooked in narratives of early African American history.

Through 97 remarkable works including paintings, needlework, and photographs, this exhibition invites visitors to focus on figures who appear in—or are omitted from—early American images and will challenge conventional narratives that have minimized early Black histories in the North, revealing the complexities and contradictions of the region’s history between the late 1600s and early 1800s.

Despite their vital importance, the experiences and contributions of Black figures in the Northeast have often been ignored or minimized. While the exhibition features a rich collection of artwork, it also delves deeper by considering what’s missing. Historical records show Black people lived and worked in the North during this period. Yet, many images from that time exclude them. By including works without Black figures, the exhibit prompts us to think about how these omissions continue to affect our understanding of history.

The exhibition comes to Historic Deerfield by way of the American Folk Art Museum in New York City, where it was first exhibited from November 15, 2023 to March 24, 2024.

A 300-page scholarly book with contributions from Gwendolyn DuBois Shaw, Jennifer Van Horn, and several authors, is available for purchase in our Museum Store.

This exhibition has been co-curated by Emelie Gevalt, RL Watson, and Sadé Ayorinde. 

The Deerfield installation of this exhibition
was made possible through the generosity of the Americana Foundation

with major support provided by

Nancy J. and John D. Barnard, Deborah Dearborn, Suzanne and William Flynt, Anne K. Groves, Barbara James and Peter Schelfhaudt, James Meltzer and Cynthia Amidon, Lindsay and David Ormsby, Ellen M. Snyder-Grenier, and William and Tracy Veillette

and additional support from

Lynn Ball, Fraser Bennett Beede, John Davis and Jason Heffner, Cynthia Flynt and David Kriegel, Wesley and Jeanne Fredericks, Heidi Hollomon Flanagan, Lynda McCurdy Hotra, Karen and James Martin, Jane and Richard Nylander, Elaine Patterson, Dr. and Mrs. Paul C. Peters, Jr., Edward Y. Reid II and Lester J. Bartson, Michael and Mary Smith, Robert Strauss, Mary and Richard Thayer, Dr. Sarah E. Thomas and Mr. Peter B. Hirtle, and Melissa and Jesse Vanek.

Lead support for the exhibition and publication was provided to the American Folk Art Museum by the Terra Foundation for American Art, and Elizabeth and Irwin Warren.

Major support was provided by David and Dixie De Luca, Citi, and the Robert Lehman Foundation, with additional support by Julia F. Alexander, Monty Blanchard and Leslie Tcheyan, Laurent Delly and Lybra Clemons, Susan and James Hunnewell, Gail Wright Sirmans, Donna L. Skerrett, Ramondy Thermidor, the American Folk Art Society, Furthermore: a program of the J. M. Kaplan Fund, the Dorothea & Leo Rabkin Foundation, and the David Davies and Jack Weeden Fund for Exhibitions.