Polly Perkins of Pemberton Green

Polly Perkins of Pemberton Green

Polly Perkins of Pemberton Green

Location:          Historic American Sheet Music Collection, Duke University  (Durham, North Carolina)

Title of Song:   Polly Perkins of Pemberton

Composer:       Clifton, Harry

Illustrator:      Bufford, J.H.

Publisher:        Tolman, Henry

Year & Place:  Boston, Massachusetts

Collection/Call Number/Copies:                Music B-2061

Historic American Sheet Music Item #:  hasm.b2061

Basic Description

This sheet music cover is composed of five small vignettes (cameo) portraits.  Each portrait is framed by lush botanical foliage as vines and leaves seem to grow out of the bottom of the page and wind around in circles.  Within each oval frame is a male.  In each one, the man wears different set of clothing and his body takes on a different position.  In all portraits but one the man appears in blackface make-up.  All five images depict the same person, presumably, R. Bishop Buckley.  In the cameo of the top left hand corner, the man wears sits on a chair in a light-colored, pajama-like garments while holding a instrument requiring a long bow.  The central vignette shows Buckley in a vest and conventional pants.  Here, however, he sits on the ground with his arms open, gesturing toward the viewer in a sinister manner.  In the adjacent portrait man sports a coat and scarf with a unrecognizeable cap on his head.  The last portrait beneath this shows him sitting again in profile with a tambourine as his eyes stare out at the audience.

Personal Description

The most striking aspect of this image is not the depiction of one man in four different minstrel costumes.  It is that he is shown, purposively, both with and without the blackface mask.  Indeed, the whole composition exudes a revelatory tone as the foliage seems to have been lifted or brushed aside like curtains to reveal each character.  And this calls into question what differences existed between Buckley and his blackface incarnations.  With a partially empty nevertheless serious gaze, the performer sits in the lower left hand corner.  Unlike many of his characters, most of his body is invisible to the viewer.  He adopts the quintessential image of respectability with an erect posture and a full-suit consisting of a jacket, vest, white collared shirt and a bowtie.  In contrast, the other vignettes suggest an affinity for music, visually restating the stereotype of an inherent inclination in blacks for music.  This juxtaposition sets up a contrast that attempts to carefully delineate dissimilarities between the man and his masks.

Reality Check

Chester Harding - Self Portrait - 1860

Chester Harding (1792-1866), Self-Portrait, c.1860

Chester Harding was a self-taught portrait painter. He was born in Massachusetts in 1792. Harding spent his early adult years in the state of New York, struggling to earn a living as a cabinet maker. In debt, he fled with his wife and child to Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, where an acquaintance suggested he open a sign-painter¹s shop.  A traveling portrait painter came through town and painted pictures of Harding and his wife. Harding was fascinated with the idea of portraiture and used his work paints to create a picture of his wife. The portrait turned out surprisingly well. Portrait orders rolled in, and Harding saved enough money to afford classes at the Pennsylvania Academy of Design. He traveled and painted portraits the remainder of his life. Harding spent a great deal of time in St. Louis, Washington, DC, London, and Boston.  Charles Harding painted many legendary faces. Other famous pictures include portraits of Chief Justice John Marshall and Civil War Major General William T. Sherman.

(Source: http://shs.umsystem.edu/famousmissourians/explorers/dboone/harding.html)

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