The Afro-American Tradition in Decorative Arts

John Michael Vlach


"Exceeds previous literature in world art history because it places the Afro-American tradition within a multicultural, world context as well as preserving the attributes of specialized research."

"Vlach's vision of black culture as a living, dynamic, and often subtle fusion of African and European ingredients enriched the decorative arts field's superficial understanding of tradition and reinforced the views of other current scholars of ethnicity who reject static models of culture and tradition."
American Culture


Covering basketry, musical instruments, wood carving, quilting, pottery, boatbuilding, blacksmithing, architecture, and graveyard decoration, John Vlach seeks to trace and substantiate African influences in the traditional arts and crafts of black Americans. It is a widespread tradition, he observes, readily visible in areas such as the coastal regions of South Carolina and Georgia but discernible as well in places far to the west and north. With the aid of more than two hundred photographs and numerous maps, diagrams, and drawings, Vlach not only examines the form and content of the artifacts and structures but also relates them to the complex cultural context from which they sprang--the interwoven strands of African and European influence.

Originally published in 1978 as the catalog to a major exhibit by the Cleveland Museum of Art, this book was among the first to describe and analyze the achievements of African American artisans. It is now recognized as a landmark work, the standard in its field, and is widely used by historians, folklorists, anthropologists, and sociologists.

Page count: 200 pp.
Trim size: 8.5 x 11

Read more about art in Georgia from 1895 to 1960 at the New Georgia Encyclopedia.


List price: $33.95

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John Michael Vlach is professor of American studies and anthropology and director of the Folklife Program at George Washington University. He is the author of Back of the Big House: The Architecture of Plantation Slavery and coeditor (with Dell Upton) of Common Places: Readings in American Vernacular Architecture (Georgia).