A Mule Train on an Up Grade: "Golly! Where is Dis Yere Promis Land?"

Thomas B. Worth American
Publisher Currier & Ives American

Not on view

The late nineteenth-century Darktown prints by Currier & Ives depict racist stereotypes that are offensive and disturbing.The Metropolitan Museum of Art preserves such works to shed light on their historical context and to enable the study and evaluation of racism. 

This print caricatures a traveling family trying to force its laden mule up a steep hill. It depicts a Black (African American) woman --wearing a blue/white top, a red/white striped skirt and a straw bonnet -- pulling hard on the the mule's bridle reins placed over her shoulder so that the balking mule will continue to climb. Behind the mule, with his head and arms pushing the animal's rump, is a Black man wearing a blue/white checked shirt and patched white overalls. Secured onto the back of the mule is a basket with a small child and banjo inside, a red trunk, along with a hoe and shovel. Boulders are in the lower left foreground; mountains are in the right background. The title and caption are imprinted in the bottom margin. This print has a sequel, "A Mule Train on a Down Grade: "Clar de Track for We's a Comin" " (Peters 420, Gale 4636; see accession no.52.632.18).

Nathaniel Currier (1813–1888), whose successful New York-based lithography firm began in 1835, produced thousands of prints in various sizes that together create a vivid panorama of mid-to-late nineteenth century American life and its history. People eagerly acquired such lithographs featuring picturesque scenery, rural and city views, ships, railroads, portraits, hunting and fishing scenes, domestic life and numerous other subjects, as an inexpensive way to decorate their homes or business establishments. As the firm expanded, Nathaniel included his younger brother Charles in the business. In 1857, James Merritt Ives (1824–1895), the firm's accountant since 1852 and Charles's brother-in-law, was made a business partner. Subsequently renamed Currier & Ives, the firm continued via their successors until 1907. The artist of this print is Thomas Worth, a prolific nineteenth-century illustrator who excelled at drawing horses and other subjects, many of which were made into lithographs published by Currier & Ives; he also drew many of the Darktown images.

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