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Catalog Data

Created by:
Stephen Towns, American, born 1980  Search this
acrylic and oil paint, graphite, bristol board, metal leaf, natural and synthetic cloth fabric, nylon tulle, polyester and cotton thread, and crystal glass beads on wood panel
H x W x D (overall): 40 × 16 5/8 × 1 7/8 in. (101.6 × 42.2 × 4.8 cm)
H x W x D (a: panel): 24 1/8 × 16 1/8 × 1 9/16 in. (61.3 × 40.9 × 4 cm)
H x W (b: banner): 21 5/8 × 16 7/16 in. (55 × 41.8 cm)
panel paintings
fiber art
mixed media
Place made:
Baltimore, Maryland, United States, North and Central America
“All of my work is rooted in my growing up in the Deep South. My work is in direct response to issues permeating African American culture, issues such as loss of ancestral roots, slavery, class, education, skin tone and religion. I create beauty despite misfortunes in life.” — Stephen Towns
The subject of An Offering was inspired by Marcus Rediker’s 2007 book, The Slave Ship: A Human History. The series of eight panels pay homage to West African people who were uprooted from their families and forced to endure the brutality of the Middle Passage and enslavement. The shape of each panel recalls the iconic 18th century British slave ship, the Brookes. The candles represent an offering to these ancestors in a gesture of gratitude and solace.
A mixed media work comprised of a rectangular painted wooden panel with a quilted fabric panel suspended below. The quilted panel ends in a curved point, giving the overall work the shape of a ship with pointed bow. The painted panel depicts a portrait of a figure against a gold background. The figure, shown from the waist up, wears a white garment with yellow cloth draped around the shoulders. A round black shape appears behind the figure’s head. Two blue butterflies hover around the figure, one at the right ear and one at the left shoulder. In the quilted panel below, the figure’s shadow is cast in black fabric overlaid with tulle studded with delicate glass beads. The black mass from above appears here as a halo of white thread. The shadow figure is surrounded by waves made of undulating strips of fabric in shades of blue, gray, and purple. Three hands hold out candles in offering to the ancestral figure, each flame represented by a single yellow bead. On the verso of the quilted panel is a small rectangle of white cloth at the top left corner with black thread embroidery reading "Offering 2."
African American  Search this
African diaspora  Search this
Art  Search this
Identity  Search this
Middle Passage  Search this
Slavery  Search this
Spirituality  Search this
Credit Line:
Collection of the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture
Object number:
Restrictions & Rights:
© Stephen Towns
Permission required for use. Proper usage is the responsibility of the user.
See more items in:
National Museum of African American History and Culture Collection
An Offering
Visual Arts
Reckoning: Protest. Defiance. Resilience.
On View:
NMAAHC (1400 Constitution Ave NW), National Mall Location, Culture/Fourth Floor, 4 052
Data Source:
National Museum of African American History and Culture