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The Old Plantation is an Americanmarker folk art watercolor that was likely painted in the late 18th century on a South Carolinamarker plantation.

The painting depicts African American slaves between two small outbuildings of a plantation on a river bend. The Old Plantation is the only known painting of its era that depicts African Americans by themselves, concerned only with each other, though its central activity remains obscure. Some authorities have speculated that the painting depicts a marriage ceremony, with the attendant tradition of jumping the broom. Other scholars have suggested that the subjects are performing a secular dance: the Yoruba of Nigeriamarker traditionally danced barefoot with sticks and scarves, and the headdresses pictured are of West African and perhaps distinctly Yoruban origin.

The painting features two musicians, one of whom is playing a stringed instrument that resembles a Yoruba molo; the body of this instrument seems to be a hollow gourd. The molo is a precursor to the banjo, and this is the earliest known American painting to picture a banjo-like instrument.The second musician is playing a percussion instrument that may be a Yoruba gudugudu; others have suggested, however, that he is hitting sticks or bird bones against a hollow gourd.

The painting was purchased for Abby Aldrich Rockefeller from Mary E. Lyles of Columbia, South Carolinamarker, who said that it was painted on a plantation between Charlestonmarker and Orangeburgmarker, South Carolina by one of her ancestors. A watermark on the paper has been identified as that used by the Englishpapermaker James Whatman II (1741–1798) between 1777 and 1794. The painting was restored by art conservator Christa Gaehde in 1954–1955, who cleaned the painting, flattened creases, mended tears, filled and inpainted losses in the paper, and added a washi paper backing. The painting is currently held by the Abby Aldrich Rockefeller Folk Art Center in Williamsburg, Virginiamarker.


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