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From Artisans to Artists:
African American Metal Workers in Memphis

JUNE 26 - SEPT. 11, 2022

Curated by Dr. Earnestine Jenkins
Gasparrini Galleries
3.05 x 5.05 in.-Madagascar-Private collection-E.Jenkins.jpg

image: Forge at Fort-Dauphin, Madagascar, early 20th century. Private collection. 

“Like the endurance of the metal itself, contemporary Black artists sustain
the historic and symbolic significance of working with iron that began
with ancient practices of blacksmithing in Africa.” 
- Dr. Earnestine Jenkins 

Through its celebration of artisans and artists from West and Central Africa through to modern-day Memphis, this exhibit examines the role of the blacksmith in diverse African contexts and how that artisan identity and associated blacksmithing practices changed in America due to slavery.


Among those metal workers featured are the enslaved blacksmiths of two local plantation sites, the Hunt Phelan House and the Hilderbrand Plantation; blacksmiths and entrepreneurs Blair Hunt and David Carnes; and contemporary artists Richard Hunt, Lorenzo Scruggs, Hawkins Bolden, and Desmond Lewis. From Artisans to Artists draws on the knowledge and research of guest curator Dr. Earnestine Jenkins, who utilizes surviving artifacts and primary source documents from both sides of the Atlantic Ocean to bring to the forefront a crucial part of Memphis’s artistic history.


Dr. Jenkins is a historian of visual culture and professor at University of Memphis (Memphis, TN). Among her publications are such titles as African Americans in Memphis (2009) and Race, Representation, and Photography in 19th Century Memphis: from Slavery to Jim Crow (2016). Dr. Jenkins has curated exhibits of African and African American art for the Art Museum of the University of Memphis, the Jones Hall Gallery (University of Memphis), Dixon Gallery and Gardens (Memphis, TN), and Memphis Brooks Museum of Art (Memphis, TN). 

HawkinsBolden_Untitled(scarecrow)_ca1986_Mixed media assemblage_44x36x11in_HB055.jpg
4.08 x 3.08 in. - American Blacksmith clipping.jpg

image: “In the Smithshop of America’s Largest Shipyard at Newport News, Virginia,” The American Blacksmith: A Practical Journal of Blacksmithing and Wagonmaking, July 1913. Private collection. 

Dr. Earnestine Jenkins

Image: Hawkins Bolden, Untitled, 1986. Wood, metal, carpet. Courtesy of the SHRINE Gallery. 


Hyde Family Foundation 

Windgate Charitable Foundation 
BlueCross BlueShield of Tennessee Community Trust



Tennessee Arts Commission 

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