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Willie Cole (American, born 1955)


composition 49 9/16 x 95 1/16" (125.9 x 241.5 cm); sheet 56 1/4 x 104 3/4" (142 x 266 cm)
Alexander and Bonin Publishing, Inc., New York
Derrière L'Étoile Studios, New York
Credit Line:
Jacqueline Brody Fund and The Friends of Education Fund
MoMA Number:
© 2015 Willie Cole
Audio Program excerpt

Willie Cole


MoMA2000: Open Ends (1960-2000)

, September 28, 2000-March 4, 2001

Stowage is a woodcut, and it's made by embedding actual objects into plywood, then inking those objects and the wood itself, and then putting paper with that and burnishing the back of the paper. So, it's probably one of the most primitive styles of printmaking. I cut holes in the plywood, and then I cut circles to fit the hole, and then I cut the shape of the iron out of the circle that fits the hole, and I put the iron sole into the hole. The reason I did it that way is because I wanted to use the line from the cut as part of the design. I could have just put the iron into the plywood, only cutting out the shape of the iron, but I wanted to have the circle around it also.

Then the center panel is actually a piece of plywood where the shape of the ironing board has been cut out and then the ironing board is embedded in that. The word "stowage" refers to human cargo on a ship, transporting slaves to the so-called "new world." I discovered this image in a history book that I had received when I was a kid called Ebony Guide to Negro History. It came out in maybe 1965, and they had this chart that showed the slave ship. It's a very popular image, it's probably in most history books. They don't show you the real serious, heart–wrenching images. They show you the drawing of the ship, and the drawing of the slaves stacked like sardines. As soon as I saw that image, it looked like an ironing board to me. And the same way I have a collection of irons, at that time I had a collection of ironing boards too. So I chose one that had lots of detail, because there were lots of slaves stashed or stuffed in every ship. And the iron images around there can represent the way the slaves were laid into the ship, or they can represent the various tribes that each African came from, before they became slaves in the U.S. So it's kind of like a chart, too, to indicate these things. The piece is made as a woodcut because I wanted the patterns in the plywood to simulate the patterns in the ocean.

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