April 15, 2017
I started rereading Uncle Tom’s Cabin last week. As I’m making my way through it, I’ve started to realize how ambivalent I am towards my final project. It was meant to be a series of three paintings of male hands, emphasizing how interconnected femininity and morality is for Stowe and the women in this book. I believe that Stowe believes that if maternal and feminine qualities ruled the hearts and minds of men, slavery wouldn’t exist because money is masculine and kindness is feminine. And, curiously, Stowe often lingers on the way men moved and used their hands, describing where their skin was worn in and what kind of rings they wore. (Especially striking is when she described Uncle Tom sobbing into his big, potentially powerful but ultimately passive hands.)
My project proposal would have allowed me to combine my fascination with her usage of femininity and motherhood to inject a sense of morality in the reader and the ways masculinity and femininity play out in her men. I was going to paint portraits of the hands Uncle Tom, Simon Legree, and Augustine St. Clare because they all perform their masculinity to varying degrees. They all greet what I think are moments of violence with a stifled stillness.
But I’m not sure that that’s what I want out of this class. There are so many limitations to just painting three portraits. It would highlight black, male femininity in Uncle Tom, the impotence of St. Clare, and Legree’s corruption. But it feels still to me. And it also would completely ignore the women in the novel. I would literally be searching for signs of women in only the men.
I also want my final project to be interactive, something that implicates the player the way reading Stowe made me feel like I was participating in slavery.
I want to create something I can feel in my hands, but I’d also like for it to have some sort of online component. I’m thinking about changing my project altogether. I want to think about the idea of a color palette. I’ll talk to Professor Dimock next office hours.
April 20, 2017
I met with Professor Dimock during her office hours yesterday. We talked about my initial project idea — before I had decided on a series of three portraits — and what I wanted my project to accomplish. It was really helpful.
I think I’m fairly settled on the idea of a color palette that someone can flip through. In some home furniture stores, like Home Depot, a customer is able to customize a couch or their hardwood floors by flipping through swatches bound together by a ring. If I can go back through Uncle Tom’s Cabin and catalogue every single character mentioned and descriptions of their skin color, I can put together a book of skin tones. Buying leather (or something that feels like leather — I want that tactile experience) in different shades and putting them together in a sort of book shouldn’t be too difficult, though it will be costly.
I like how impersonal the idea feels, and the act of flipping through shades to pick the one you want, the person you want, would be an interesting way of experiencing a part of Uncle Tom’s Cabin.
May 2, 2017
I’ve been thinking about the digital component to my project. I want to create a few mockups of a sort of online directory that has everything each character said and when they were referenced. Cataloging each interaction for every character in all of Uncle Tom’s Cabin would be too time consuming. I think I’m going to limit myself to the first three chapters of the book.
I can etch small carvings into or draw a barcode on the bound pieces of leather. I chose a few shades online from an Etsy store that only sells small pieces of leather for craft projects by working myself backward from Uncle Tom. The act of having to pick out each character’s skin tone — choosing between two very similar shades of white or brown or black — is a very different way of interacting with these characters.
I’ve been trying to find primary source documents for a couple of weeks because I want the online directory to be able to price how much each slave would be. There are a lot of secondary sources, and the consensus so far seems to be the lighter the better for women and the darker and stronger the better for the men.
If I had more time, I would want to find a friend who can help me create some sort of mathematical formula — to actually be able to look at a whole, living person and assign them a monetary value. This is math that’s still being done; I remember reading that the EPA doesn’t take spend the money to regulate a pollutant unless it harms so many people in so much time. I’m excited about this project. I’m glad I’ve moved away from the paintings, though I had already completed one when I decided to change course.
May 3, 2017
I found a primary source! This is very exciting. I didn’t think I would be able to find one that very specifically differentiated between subtle shades. I’ve also finally finished the mock up of my online directory! All that’s left to do is etch in the barcodes.