drop-front desk with four-legged base; front of base decorated with high-relief carving of sword; exterior of drop-front decorated with high-relief carvings of forks and knives, bottles, gun, various tools (saw, pick axe, trowel, shovel), pocket knives, two pointing hands and other objects; sides also decorated with applied relief carvings of various objects; medium wood patina

Writing desk, c. 1870

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William Howard was born in Africa and lived and worked at Kirkwood Plantation in Madison County, Mississippi, first as an enslaved man and then, after the Civil War (1861–65), as a free man. This desk was handed down through an African American family, along with the story of William Howard as its maker.

Showcasing Howard’s ingenuity and technical skill, the desk has a high-style, neoclassical form constructed of rough “make-do” materials, such as Bull Durham tobacco boxes and cotton shipping crates. More than seventy separately made hand-carvings of weapons, tools, eating utensils, trade symbols, and other objects embellish the front and sides.

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Details
Title
Writing desk
Artist Life
American, born Africa about 1805, active until c. 1870
Role
Maker
Accession Number
2012.11
Curator Approved

This record has been reviewed by our curatorial staff but may be incomplete. These records are frequently revised and enhanced. If you notice a mistake or have additional information about this object, please email collectionsdata@artsmia.org.

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drop-front desk with four-legged base; front of base decorated with high-relief carving of sword; exterior of drop-front decorated with high-relief carvings of forks and knives, bottles, gun, various tools (saw, pick axe, trowel, shovel), pocket knives, two pointing hands and other objects; sides also decorated with applied relief carvings of various objects; medium wood patina