Sunday, January 1, 2023

Red & Yellow Head Wraps: Observations

Painted by Francois Malepart de Beaucourt, 1786

This Haitian woman probably sold fruit in an outdoor market in traditional African/American dress. Few people went in public without a head covering, usually some kind of a status symbol, whether status was high or low.

Detroit Institute for the Arts
Sherry, Sir by Thomas Waterman Wood (1823-1903), 1890

Black women in the Americas favored "red madras handkerchiefs," as Kentucky teacher Julia Hieronymous Tevis recalled about the 1820s.

Emily Pillsbury Burke (1814-1887)

New-Hampshire-born Emily Pillsbury went to Georgia to teach at Savannah's female Orphan Asylum in 1840. In her twenties at the time she noticed fashion. As soon as she disembarked in Savannah she was struck by the colorful head wraps worn by the Black women of the city. 

'Market Woman' Thomas Waterman Wood, 1858
DeYoung Museum
Did Wood dress his models in the same studio prop kerchiefs?

At each of the outdoor market stalls she saw:

"A servant woman to sell her masters property, who is careful to deck out his saleswoman in the most gaudy colors to make her as conspicuous as possible, that she may be successful in trade....I once heard a gentleman say, whose saleswoman had not been very successful, He must get her a new handkerchief for her head, and see if she would not sell more."

Woman selling vegetables, a "huckster" as street
vendors were called

"Bonnets are not worn by the colored people at the South, not even to church. The fashion of their head dress is a sort of turban, made by folding a cotton handkerchief in that peculiar kind of way known only to themselves."

Women in slavery at a Florida Plantation

Emily elaborated, calling the taste in head wraps:

"The most gaudy that can be found. As I never saw any of the kind before or since, I have concluded they were manufactured for this express purpose by those who well understand what was most congenial to their tastes. During my stay in Georgia, I saw...many of those red and yellow articles worn by the colored people."
Freed women at a South Carolina plantation during the Civil War

Yale Center for British Art
Linen Day in Roseau before 1796 by Agostino Brunias.
Roseau is on the Caribbean island of Dominica. Here
a street vendor sells bandanas or kerchiefs to the fashionable.

Agostino Brunias painted many Caribbean women at
the end of the 18th century.

In 1840 the fashion in Savannah also seems to have been for red kerchiefs. Emily had no idea where they came from but in 1840---how about Scotland?

Border print in Turkey red, yellow and green from Scotland
Were these manufactured for the African consumer in the Americas?

Or perhaps they came from France.

The influence of traditional French provincial dress is also quite apparent
in the bordered shoulder scarves.

Woman in the French Antilles 1860-1880

Late-18th century fashion extremes were everywhere.
Was Agostino Brunias exaggerating?

The Metropolitan Museum of Art sums it up in a caption for one of Brunias's paintings:
"A distinctive Creole style developed in the region as European fashions were integrated with African modes such as the head wrap, worn by nearly all women regardless of race or social status. Weekly markets throughout the Caribbean were dynamic sites of economic and social exchange where colorful textiles could be acquired and enslaved persons could participate as both buyers and sellers in global trade networks."
A dressed picture of a New Orleans woman in a red and yellow plaid scarf

Most of the pictures show plaids and stripes, but red and yellow do seem to be the colors.

Woven  plaid in a quilt dated 1833, associated with Mary Marden of New Hampshire.
Pat L. Nickols collection at the Mingei Museum. 

Eyre Crow, 1861, Slaves waiting for sale, Richmond, Virginia

Phoenix Museum of Art
In 1916 Robert Henri painted a picture of  "The Laundress"
in traditional dress.

Read Reminiscences of Georgia by Emily P. Burke, 1850

You'll note that New Englander Emily was not a fan of "gaudy" red and yellow. 

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