Poetry (and Portraits) of the Past and Present

“The world is full of poetry, the air is living with its spirit, and the waves dance to the music of its melodies.” ~ James Gates Percival’s “Poetry” copied into Martha Ann Brown’s commonplace book from 1849.

Please join us at the American Antiquarian Society this Thursday, November 17, at 7 p.m. (register here to attend in-person or virtually) to explore the power of poetry and its role connecting us to the past. What did poetry mean to Martha Ann Brown, a nineteenth century woman of color integrally connected to the local Black and Indigenous communities, and what does poetry mean to us today? How did women in the Brown family pass along forms of artistic expression through generations, and how are similar generational connections maintained today?

In partnership with the Worcester Black History Project, Thursday evening’s event in the new AAS Learning Lab will be moderated by Deborah Hall and begin with a brief historical introduction to the Brown Family Collections at AAS by Kimberly Toney. Then we will hear new original poems from three Black women poets working in Worcester today – Rev. Catherine Reed, Xaulanda Thorpe, and Ashley Wonder – who will reflect on connections especially among the women of the Brown Family as well as in their own families and lives.

The women of the Brown family expressed themselves artistically in many ways.

→ Martha Ann Brown kept a commonplace book that included artistically arranged pressed flowers and poetry in the 1840s. (The entire book is digitized here thanks to funding from the Delmas Foundation.)

Page from Martha Ann Brown’s commonplace book.

→ Emma Griffin Brown (Martha Ann’s daughter-in-law) wrote her own penciled annotation into the margins of a printed book of “Moore’s Poems,” commenting on favorite poems or expressing philosophical angst, in the 1890s.

Page from Moore’s Poetry with annotations by Emma Griffin Brown.

→ Bernice Brown Goldsberry (Martha Ann’s granddaughter and Emma’s daughter) inked her own illustrations in a book in the family’s library and became a professional commercial artist producing Valentines and greeting cards in the 1910s-20s.

Page from novel with ink illustrations added by Bernice Brown Goldsberry.

BONUS EVENT: Intrigued by the Brown Family and interested in learning more about them and their descendants? There is another event you can attend in Worcester on Thursday, November 17 (learn more and register here). At 7 a.m. there will be a networking breakfast at Mechanics Hall to learn more about their Portraits Project, a plan to increase representation of women and people of color among the portraits on display at Mechanics Hall. Martha Ann Brown and William Brown are among those for whom new portraits are to be commissioned, and one of the descendants of the Brown family, James Goldsberry, will be speaking at the breakfast.

If you then come to the American Antiquarian Society at 185 Salisbury Street for the evening’s poetry event at 7 p.m., you will see on permanent display in the reading room a portrait of one of the Brown family’s ancestors, John Moore, Jr., as well as photographs brought out for this event of Martha Ann and William Brown, that will help provide inspiration for today’s artists to create new portraits of the family.

From left to right: Oil on canvas portrait of John Moore, Jr. (b. c. 1800) and carte-de-visite photographs of his nephew, William Brown (1824-1892), and William’s wife Martha Ann (Tulip/Lee/Lewis/Lewey?) Brown (1818-1889).

EXTRA BONUS EVENT (not related to the Brown Family): As if that weren’t enough, AAS also will be holding a virtual book talk on Thursday, November 17, at 2pm. Marcy J. Dinius will talk about her book, The Textual Effects of David Walker’s “Appeal”: Print-Based Activism Against Slavery, Racism, and Discrimination, 1829-1851 (learn more and register here).

So consider bookending your day on Thursday, November 17, with the amazing Brown Family: 7 a.m. at Mechanics Hall for breakfast and 7 p.m. at AAS for poetry!

Published by

Elizabeth Watts Pope

Curator of Books, American Antiquarian Society

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