The connection between cotton, slavery, and handmade paper.

As a papermaker who uses cotton linters in my artwork, I need to address a topic that is often overlooked in our community. That topic concerns the historical connection between slavery in America, cotton production, and the design of the cotton gin itself. The intersection of cotton, slavery, and art (paper, canvas, cloth) is indeed troubling.  This connection continues to be an area of concern for those of us using cotton materials and the migrant workers who harvest the cotton and manufacture it for commercial purposes.

One fact concerns the design of the Cotton Gin itself, the famous invention by Eli Whitney. According to historical researcher Eric Schultz, whose book Innovation on Tap mentions this connection, Whitney’s design is taken directly from the Hollander Beater. 

A modern Hollander Beater. Note the wheel with spikes. This is what grinds the cotton fiber into pulp.
The machine Invented by Eli Whitney, quickly separates the cotton fibers from their seeds, enabling greater productivity than manual cotton separation, vintage line drawing or engraving illustration. Note the similarities between the wheel shown here and above in the beater.

Once the cotton gin became available, allowing for faster production and marketing of cotton, the excuse to support slavery became even more widespread and the enslavement of African people grew as a result.  This history is well documented in the 1619 project.  See episode two, The Economy that Slavery Built.


Listen to ‘1619,’ a Podcast From The New York Times“1619” is a New York Times audio series, hosted by Nikole Hannah-Jones, that examines the long shadow of American slavery. Listen to the episodes below, or read the transcripts by clicking the …

Small Works Gallery Fundraiser raises 340.00 for the Boston Food Bank.

I can’t thank everyone enough for your generous support of my small works gallery fundraiser. Together, we raised 340.00 for the Boston Food Bank. 
If you would still like to contribute to the food bank and save 20%, the promotional code Boston Food Bank is active on the small works gallery until December 31. 50% of sales will go to support the food bank. Free shipping on all purchases.
Thank you again for your supporting Meg Black Studios, and in turn, the Greater Boston Food Bank. 
May you enjoy your holiday season in peace and serenity.
And as always, thank you for your support. 

Stormy Seas, 8 x 6, 45.00.
August Fire, 8 x 6, 45.00.
Sea stripes, 8 x 6 inches, 45.00.

Making progress on a large scale garden painting.

A visit to this Private Collector’s Beach Themed Living Room

My commissioned painting installed in a private collector’s home.

Once a piece leaves my studio, I rarely get to see it in its forever space, in this case the living room of a private collector. I love the way the collector worked the decor around the painting-from the periwinkle blue walls to the throw pillows and glass ornaments. The grand piano with nautical art completes the feel of a home by the sea-and the love these collectors have for the ocean.

Contact me if you would like to discuss a commissioned painting for your private space. Or, visit my original art gallery for a painting that might work for your favorite space.

Meg Black featured on Helen Hiebert Paper Talk podcast

Meg Black

Using overeaten abaca and a spoon to paint a garden in bloom.

My day in Monet’s Garden, Giverny, France.

Claude Monet is famous for painting many subjects: water lilies, cathedral facades, footbridges, and of course, his garden’s at Giverny, France, where he moved to in 1883. Monet did not like organized gardens common in other parts of France such as the Gardens at Versaillies. In Giverny, he arranged flowers according to their colors and left them to grow naturally, more in keeping with the picturesque gardens of England or the Zen Gardens of Japan.
I visited Monet’s gardens with my mother a few years ago-the ultimate mother/daughter field trip, where I walked the path of the great impressionist artist and took inspiration from his famous gardens.
My painting, Monet’s Garden, Giverny was inspired by this famous garden. The trellis and sweeping vines, rows of pink, orange, and peach blooms, topped with a kaleidoscope of greens, captures the essence of this very special place in France, and in the hearts of art lovers everywhere.

The painting in situ. To order the painting, to order a print of the painting.

The worlds first truly modern building, London’s Crystal Palace.

The Chrystal Palace, c. 1874, Sydenham, England

Built in 1851 for the Great Exhibition of London, a precursor of the Centennial Exhibition, held in Philadelphia in 1876, the Chrystal Palace at 1,851 x 800 square feet was 4X the length of St. Peter’s Basilica and almost as high. The cast iron frames, columns and girders produced in a factory and bolted on site were glazed with factory made glass, some of it concave to work with the extraordinary design. The design for the palace was the work of Joseph Paxton (1803-1865), a gardener and landscape architect for the royal residence of Chatsworth House, home to the Duke of Devonshire. Paxton had designed a photo-type of a greenhouse many years earlier to ensure the wintering over of the duke’s favorite violets and orchids. Paxton’s idea came to the attention of Prince Albert, who was charged with overseeing the Great Exhibition. Envisioning the simple greenhouse design on a grand scale-Albert was keen to share the benefits of Britain’s place within the industrial revolution to the worlds-the design for the Chrystal Palace took shape.

At the urging of Prince Albert, the palace was built in record time. According to John Pile (History of Interior Design, 2014):

Various architects presented schemes too elaborate, too expensive, or otherwise impractical. It was reported that a chief gardener (really an estate manager) for the great estate of Chatsworth, Joseph Paxton (1803–65), had constructed a conservatory for tropical plants—a greenhouse—all of iron and glass. A meeting was arranged where Paxton proposed to Prince Albert a vast greenhouse of similar construction for the exhibition. Despite uncertainties and protests, Paxton’s proposal was finally accepted and constructed with the aid of the engineering firm of Fox and Henderson (p. 246-247).

The Crystal Palace with all its Victorian era offerings on display.
The smoldering ruins of the structure after the fire of 1936.

What was perhaps most striking about the Chrystal Palace was the disconnect between the modern structure and the offerings within-a frosting of overstuffed and overly ornate Victorian decoration from tassel laden pillows, heavy vegetable dyed throw rugs, and piano’s hardly recognizable under the weight of an overture of veneer carving.

Sadly the palace met its fate in 1936 when fire broke out and gutted the structure. Dispute this loss, the concept for a glass and steel structure has become ubiquitous in modern architecture, as seen in Cesar Pelli’s World Financial Center’s Winter Garden in lower Manhattan, not far from the World Trade Center (it largely survived the 9/11 attack).

The atrium at the World Financial Center’s Winter Garden, NYC, by Cesar Pelli 

The 1988 World Financial Center, now known as Brookfield Place, consists of four towers, two octagonal buildings, the Winter Garden public atrium, a plaza, and a marina. Located in New York’s Battery Park City neighborhood, the complex was recently renovated by Pelli and son Rafael, who is a partner in Pelli Clarke Pelli. Cesar Pelli, the 20xx winner of the Pritzker Prize, died in 2019.

I hope you enjoyed reading a bit of history about the Chrystal Palace. Join my blog for more quick insights into the history of art and architecture.

Using over-beaten abaca to my seascape painting of the Cape Ann coastline.

The finished painting. Cape Ann Shoreline, 2020. Mixed media painting.

Last summer I received a call from the U.S. State Department Art in Embassies program director.The U.S. Ambassador to Belgrade would like to have an exhibition of American seascape artists for the embassy residence for the year 2021. The Art in Embassy staff shared my website with the Ambassador. He read my blog posts about the painting Cape Ann Shoreline and requested it for the exhibit.

I cannot tell you how honored I am to be included in an exhibit that celebratesAmerican seascape artists to diplomats, foreign officials and visitors to the embassy from all corners of the world.

Me in front of my painting Cape Ann Shoreline, (2020). 40 x 40 x 4 inches. Mixed media (abaca and cotton pulp, pigment, acrylic paint, mounted on Gator Board).

A look inside my pulp painting studio

My palette is a combination of recycled plastic cups-yogurt, cottage cheese, pretzel containers (of course I only buy pretzels for use in my studio), glue, spray bottles, and old rags. Delights my frugal heart to reuse so many throw-aways.

#megblackstudios #boston #paperart #handmadepaper #supportlocalartists #papermaking #paperart #newenglandartist #artforsale #shoplocal #papermaker #riverroad #topsfieldma #coolidgeestate #framedart #supportlocalartists