[Visionaries in Craft] The Black Craftspeople Digital Archive

[Visionaries in Craft] The Black Craftspeople Digital Archive

Tiffany Momon
Published on Thursday, July 7, 2022. This article appears in the Summer 2022 issue of American Craft Magazine.

Throughout American history Black craftspeople, free and enslaved, have too often labored in total obscurity. But the patient work of Tiffany Momon and her colleagues is bringing these makers to public awareness, one name at a time.

Momon, a history professor at Sewanee: The University of the South in Tennessee, started the Black Craftspeople Digital Archive in 2019. She, her colleagues, and other contributors scour old newspapers, wills, census records, and other sources for notices mentioning Black makers in 45 craft categories. Browsing it, you learn about the tailor Liberty who, true to his name, self-emancipated from his owner in 1781; seamstress Maria Jamison, 19 years old and living in Nashville, Tennessee, in 1870; and Wiltshire, an enslaved cabinetmaker who labored at the Anthony Hay Cabinet Shop in Williamsburg, Virginia, from 1764 to 1770.

Momon originally intended the archive mainly for people interested in Black material culture and the decorative arts, but soon realized that its audience included genealogists, antiques collectors, and museum visitors. “I really began to understand the impact of the project,” she says, “when we began to field requests from museums to consult on their collections and upcoming exhibitions.”

Looking ahead, she hopes to engage more with contemporary Black makers. “They embody the enduring legacy of Black craftspeople of the past,” she says, “and we want to support them.”

blackcraftspeople.org | @blackcraftspeopleda

historic house with sign being held up in foreground that says a black craftsperson worked hereportrait of doctor tiffany momon

TOP: Photo by Tiffany Momon. BOTTOM: Portrait of Tiffany Momon by Gabriella Angeloni Callahan.

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