Saturday, November 8, 2014

The beautiful needlework sampler shown above was recently acquired by the Seattle Art Museum. Its provenance is listed toward the bottom:

Liberated African
Charlotte Turner
Aged 10 years
Bathurst Sierra Leone 1831

Who was Charlotte Turner? Does "Liberated African" mean she was a freed American slave? What was she doing in Sierra Leone? What became of her?

All of these questions are addressed — and most of them answered — in a sensational new article by the art critic Jen Graves, which recently ran in the Seattle alt-weekly The Stranger. It tells the story of British missionary settlements in Sierra Leone, where children rescued from illegal slave ships were often trained to make needlework like Charlotte's, which were then sold to sponsors back in the UK to raise funds. The sponsors were granted the perk of renaming the African children whose needleworks they were purchasing, so "Charlotte Turner" was likely named by a wealthy Britisher she never knew. It's also possible that Charlotte never even existed, and that she was simply fabricated by one of the missionaries to raise money.

All of this, and a lot more, is explained in greater detail in the Stranger article. Check it out here.

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