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Arts of Europe

The MFAH collections of art created on the European continent encompass artistic styles across the time line of history, from the ancient world to the Middle Ages, and the Early Modern era to the 21st century.

 
 
 
Plate
1830–60
Lead-glazed earthenware with transfer print, Staffordshire County, England

Overall: 3/4 x 6 1/16 inches

 
The Museum of Fine Arts, Houston

The Bayou Bend Collection, Museum purchase funded by family and friends in memory of Frances M. Sacco

Arts of Europe
 
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This small plate, stamped with an alphabet border, shows an idealized image of plantation slavery. The English-made plate was designed to inspire good habits of learning and healthy eating in the children who used it. This brightly colored plate was also meant to present the idea that slavery is a good, beneficial system. African American slaves are shown gathering cotton as a family, children working next to a smiling mother.

But slavery was not like this rosy image. In reality, gathering cotton was exhausting. The success of cotton plantations in the Deep South changed the lives of slaves, causing a massive involuntary migration of African Americans. This was sometimes called the Second Middle Passage; the first Middle Passage refers to the shipment of Africans across the Atlantic to the Americas. As slave owners from the Upper South sold their slaves to cotton growers in places like Mississippi and Alabama to staff new plantations, families and long-time communities were destroyed. This migration created new lifestyles and changed African American culture. Southern slaves concentrated on their families, religion, and culture in order to survive the brutal labor system in which they lived.

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