The Political Aesthetics of Woven Textiles from the Antebellum South and Beyond

Title Details

Pages: 216

Illustrations: 38 b&w and 16 color images

Trim size: 6.000in x 9.000in



Pub Date: 03/01/2020

ISBN: 9-780-8203-5771-3

List Price: $32.95


Pub Date: 03/01/2020

ISBN: 9-780-8203-5667-9

List Price: $99.95

Subsidies and Partnerships

Published with the generous support of Sarah Mills Hodge Fund


The Political Aesthetics of Woven Textiles from the Antebellum South and Beyond

Skip to

  • Description
  • Reviews

Woven coverlets have appeared in several guises within the history of folk textiles. Created on four-harness looms, coverlets made in the nineteenth-century American South typically featured colored wool and cotton threads woven into striking geometric patterns. Although they are not as well known as other textiles and domestic objects, “overshot” coverlets were, and continue to be, significant examples of material culture that require tremendous skill and creativity to produce. They also express currents of conformity and dissent.

In addition to being pleasing to the eye and hand, “overshot” coverlets have advanced a variety of social and political ends. At times exhibited in slave quarters along the seaboard in Georgia and South Carolina in association with plantation properties, they also appear in piedmont areas attached to the antebellum yeomanry, in the context of nationalist craft revivals, and in white-box contemporary art.

With Overshot, Susan Falls and Jessica R. Smith analyze what we can learn by examining the exhibition and interpretation of these materials within American public history. By showing how geometric overshot coverlets can be understood in relationship to the global economy and within politicized cultural movements, Falls and Smith demonstrate how these erstwhile domestic, utilitarian objects explode the art/craft dichotomy, belong to a rich narrative of historical art forms, and tell us far more about American culture today than simply representing a nostalgic past, particularly with regard to ideas about race, class, nationalism, women’s labor, and the separation of private versus public spaces.

A startling and compelling example showing that even the most seemingly simple everyday objects are enmeshed in complicated social, cultural, and historical politics. Combining detailed craft knowledge with anthropological breadth, the authors explore the ways in which race is subtly woven into stagings of slave and owner spaces in historical sites, the culture and politics of yeoman low-country ‘plain folk,’ and the use of craft to reinvigorate Appalachian tradition in new ways. A rare achievement in working across black and white, aesthetics, materials, and culture, this book is an important contribution to new materialisms, discussions of craft, and work on the larger contexts in which material things take on meaning.

—Elizabeth Chin, professor of media design practices at Art Center College of Design, author of My Life with Things

This well-crafted book is impressive for what it tells us about the evolution of public history in an age when marginalized groups are competing for attention. As the text unfolds, Falls and Smith carefully knit evidence about coverlets into a larger story about how museums and historic houses interpret, and misinterpret, the work-life of African American women and women from yeoman households. Overshot captures the attention of the nonspecialist as well as the specialist in skillfully demonstrating that coverlets are both art and craft.

—Paul M. Pressly, Director Emeritus of the Ossabaw Island Education Alliance, author of On the Rim of the Caribbean: Colonial Georgia and the British Atlantic World

Contributes to expansive contemporary conversations about which stories get told, which histories are enshrined and by whom, and makes clear that coverlets indeed merit further scholarly consideration.

—Erica Warren, Design and Culture

Falls and Smith harness an impressive range of source materials and guide the reader mindfully with them. Their investigative tone and almost ethnographic approach to museum collecting is especially effective in the early chapters, in which they critically confront biases of the archive around coverlet production and mobilize material knowledge of fiber to complicate contemporary perceptions of antebellum society.

—Elaine Y. Yau, Winterthur Portfolio

About the Author/Editor

Susan Falls (Author)
SUSAN FALLS is a professor of anthropology at the Savannah College of Art & Design and the author of White Gold: Stories of Breast Milk Sharing and Clarity, Cut, and Culture: The Many Meanings of Diamonds.

Jessica R. Smith (Author)
JESSICA R. SMITH is a professor of fibers at the Savannah College of Art & Design whose work has been exhibited at Design Miami, Cooper Hewitt, and the Walker Art Center. She is the author of “Textiles of the Lowcountry: Charleston and Savannah—Collecting, Preserving, and Narrating.”