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Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art, Bentonville, Arkansas. © Kara Walker. Photography by Edard C. Robison III.

A Warm Summer Evening in 1863

Artist: Kara Walker (born 1969)
Date: 2008
69 x 98 in. (175.3 x 248.9 cm)
Medium: Wool tapestry and felt
Credit Line: Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art, Bentonville, Arkansas, 2010.3
Inscriptions: l.c: The Rioters Burning the Colored Orphan Asylum, Corner of Fifth Avenue and Forty-Sixth Street, New York City
On View
Accession Number: 2010.3
Provenancecommissioned by Banners of Persuasion, London, England; to (James Cohan Gallery, New York, NY); purchased by Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art, Bentonville, AR, 2010
Label TextIn this tapestry, Kara Walker reproduces an etching from an 1863 issue of the newspaper Harper’s Weekly that documents the burning of a “colored orphan asylum.” Infuriated by newly imposed draft requirements during the Civil War, a mob of New Yorkers took to the streets, attacking both black and white innocents. To drive home the emotional reality of this atrocity, Walker superimposed the silhouette of a hanged black woman over this scene, a shocking image that grabs our attention.

Walker’s silhouette of the hanged woman is an example of her ongoing interest in the traditional medium of cut-paper silhouettes. Before the widespread popularity of photography in early nineteenth-century America, paper cutouts of profiles served as a popular medium for portraiture. For the artist, this collision of popular prints and cutouts with the more elite tradition of woven tapestries creates tension: “I liked the irony of transferring this lowly craft into a medium once used for kings and princes,” Walker said.