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Decorative Arts

On View: American Art Galleries, 5th Floor, From Colonies to States, 1660–1830
Africans brought the staff form with spiral decoration with them when they came, enslaved, to America. This staff looks much like a European or American example, but is a combination of a traditional form with African spiral narrative.

Made in the African American community after the Civil War, the design expresses the concerns of its time. At the bottom, Africans are brought in chains to America; above, Lincoln signs the Emancipation Proclamation and the chains are sundered as Liberty leads the way under the American eagle. Thus, an object carries with it the memory of the many objects in the series that came before it.
CULTURE American
MEDIUM Wood, metal
  • Place Made: United States
  • DATES 1865-1900
    DIMENSIONS 35 x 4 1/2 x 1 1/2 in. (88.9 x 11.4 x 3.8cm)  (show scale)
    COLLECTIONS Decorative Arts
    CREDIT LINE Marie Bernice Bitzer Fund and A. Augustus Healy Fund
    RIGHTS STATEMENT Creative Commons-BY
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    CAPTION American. Cane, 1865-1900. Wood, metal, 35 x 4 1/2 x 1 1/2 in. (88.9 x 11.4 x 3.8cm). Brooklyn Museum, Marie Bernice Bitzer Fund and A. Augustus Healy Fund, 1996.179. Creative Commons-BY (Photo: Brooklyn Museum, 1996.179_colorcrrected_SL1.jpg)
    IMAGE overall, 1996.179_colorcrrected_SL1.jpg. Brooklyn Museum photograph
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    CATALOGUE DESCRIPTION Wooden walking cane or staff, commemorative of the Emancipation Proclamation. Narrow cylindrical form tapers toward bottom; handle grip is a carved eagle holding an olive branch; upper half of cane is carved with relief decorations; lower portion is smooth with tip sheathed in metal. Carved decorations around upper portion consist of four bands which tell the story of slavery and emancipation, from bottom to top: invaders with crosses enslave Africans; slave ship traveling to America; allegorical female figure of Liberty with sword (symbolizing the Civil War) and an eagle holding banner inscribed "Liberty"; Abraham Lincoln signing the Emancipation Proclamation and a slave freed from a whipping post holding a banner that reads, "Be it known that all men shall be free!"
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