The Bitter and the Sweet: Kentucky's Sugar Chests, Enslavement and the Transatlantic World 1790-1856 : GoToLouisville.com Official Travel Source





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December 1st
recurring event

The Bitter and the Sweet: Kentucky's Sugar Chests, Enslavement and the Transatlantic World 1790-1856

  • Location: The Speed Art Museum
  • 2035 South Third St.
  • Louisville, Kentucky 40208

The Bitter and the Sweet: Kentucky's Sugar Chests, Enslavement and the Transatlantic World 1790-1856

The human desire for sweetness is centuries old. The Kentucky sugar chest—and iterations such as desks, presses, bureaus, and boxes—is an idiosyncratic furniture form made from about 1790 to 1850, specifically for the storage of sugar. Skilled Kentucky cabinetmakers used local materials to create these highly specialized forms to store costly refined white sugar and brown sugar that was grown, harvested, granulated, and refined by enslaved men, women, and children. Prominently displayed in Kentucky parlors or dining rooms, a sugar chest reflected the wealthy status of its owner, and supported social rituals such as coffee, tea, and alcohol consumption, which further showcased and reinforced a prosperous economic standing. The powerful nostalgic sentiment that has long been associated with utilitarian sugar furniture, which often incorporates fanciful and regionally specific decoration, contradicts the brutal history of the sweet substance it was made to store. The Bitter and the Sweet: Kentucky Sugar Chests, Enslavement, and the Transatlantic World 1790-1865 will reexamine the objects within the broader, intertwined contexts of the Atlantic economy, the vicious human toll of enslavement, and the complex transportation and merchant systems that brought sugar to Kentucky from the West Indies and sugar-growing regions of the Americas.  Sugar furniture and related objects, contemporary artwork, tools, and archival materials will reflect the bitter reality of sugar production and trade from New World beginnings to the end of the Civil War, and will point to modern-day health legacies related to sugar consumption.

Upcoming Dates For This Event:

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