This house sat on a corner right near the Newark Museum. While I was trying to climb over the fence to get a better picture, a passerby called out" Did you know that was a stop on the Underground Railroad?" No - I didn't. I found out that "The widow of Abraham Polhemus, an abolitionist and pastor of the North Reformed Church, built the four-story brownstone on Washington Street between 1859 and 1961" and that "Strong local oral tradition states that the Polhemus House was a stop on the Underground Railroad. A tunnel in the basement is said to lead to University Avenue. Dr. Polhemus was a close friend of Henry Ward Beecher, an ardent abolitionist and brother of Harriet Beecher Stowe, so it is possible".
Oh, this story needed to be told in cloth...
I enlarged the door, making it a much more important element in the composition. The golden-colored little quilt represents the belief that quilts were used to send signals to escaping slaves.
The Pohlemus House year: 2006 size: 36”w x 39”h
I used a dark green cloth as a background. Additional pieces of that cloth were marked with discharge paste and an old iron. Those iron-images feel to me like fossilized shells, trying to protect the historic buildings in front of them, buildings that have been torn down. More iron-prints form a sidewalk around the whole piece. Sections of a white blouse (note the 2 wrists coming in at the sides), and an embroidered cloth, seem to literally hold it together, and add contrast. I was told that the house had a sub-basement, which I've presented with an image of slaves. The pictures of the escaping slaves were taken from old wanted posters. There's also an old map here, showing where in Newark different people - Germans, Jews, blacks, etc - were living at the time.
Unfortunately, the Pohlemus House no longer exists. Although there was community support to preserve it, there was no money to correct the dangerous structural defects. It too, was torn down.
After Pohlemus House was finished, I used the same door image in this one, Occupant Unknown. Definitely one of my lesser works, with no composition at all. It has wonderful elements - sections of golden ironing board covers, deep red iron discharge prints - but the center is just a muddle. Well, this is the benefit of writing a blog - I get to revisit old art and see what went wrong.