Statement from the Artist, Sara Bunn
I have always been intrigued by period dresses.  I have a love for old films, old books, antiques and have always been drawn to vintage.  I especially love stories about our past.  I am a textile artist who is passionate about looking for ways to use my skills to help benefit our communities.  I find through textiles,  I get to unite my two loves - history and fashion - and by unlocking an interesting story and then putting some clothing on it and dressing it up, I can also bring it to life.  I tell stories through fashion.

In my quest, I begin with fabrics that help set a visual aesthetic tone that in some way represents the culture of the individuals and/ or topics I want to bring attention to.  For example, some topics that I felt could use some renewed awareness is the ongoing plight of “The Gullah-Geechee Nation” and their struggle for land and legacy.  Another story that seems to resound with me deeply is “The 4 Little Girls of Birmingham”.   Theirs was just one story of the horrors of the violence young children of the Civil Rights Movement experienced.  I wanted to find a way to convey the terror of the hardcore violent racism during the 1950's and 60's while making it palatable to view and retain the important historical information in a more positive light.  Using fashion, and a bit of whimsy (huge sunflowers), I was able to delicately deliver such a sad moment in our history while hoping to save our youngest learners from the anguish of the trauma and thereby soften the emotional impact on young spirits.

I continued going further back in time for more stories to share.  I found the antebellum period story of Seneca Village, set in the late 1820’s through 1858 in early New York City.  I realized that although the story of Seneca Village had been unearthed approximately 19 years ago, and mentioned every now and then, most people I relay it to, never heard of it.  That bothered me.  I thought it really a worthwhile endeavor to retell this story, especially in today's social climate with the rapidly growing number of communities of color being gentrified throughout the United States.  The story of Seneca Village of Manhattan led me to their cousin community - the town of Weeksville, another pre-Civil War AfricanAmerican community located in what is now known as Bedford Stuyvesant, Brooklyn developed in 1838 just 11 years after Seneca and after the Emancipation Proclamation. 

While continuing this research, I realized there was next to no visual representation of what was truly happening to people of color, the enslaved, emancipated, as well as the well-to-do before, during, and after the Antebellum period through to The Reconstruction period of America.  Slim pickings for any images inside our textbooks of  professional African American doctors, lawyers, teachers during this period, and yet they existed clearly as Seneca evidences through historical census.  It seems our American history books, (especially  inner city textbooks) visually portray only a particular perspective of the African’s experience in the making of America perpetuating only the great works of a few mentioned heroes and heroines of color when there were many more than just George Washington Carver and his peanuts.  Our history books focus predominantly on the down-trodden person of color.  Stories, along with any positive images of great men and women of color during this period seem limited, muddled if any, and mostly submerged.  When you Google Victorian People of Color; and yes, there are dozens of beautiful tin types photos, but what about their stories?  Who were they? How did they live?

What happens during the rest of the Antebellum period when many of the free African Americans, along with those who were of means and who would have been considered middle class, is they move further away from the downtown hub of disease and filth, and more importantly, they seek a safe haven from the violence against them as much as they seek land to bury their dead.  The clean air along the west side (what we now refer to as Central Park West) along with plenty of farmland to purchase was available and became the perfect refuge for the Seneca community, a get-away from the crowded atrocities of downtown New York City.  The visuals of these people is mostly none to non-existent.  The first plot of Seneca land was purchased in 1827 and the first photographic camera although made in 1826, did not evolve until 1888 when KODAK made it accessible.  Images of well-to-do people of color were relegated to those who had the means (see Victorian internet images).  It seems to me our present day academic history books tend to focus on slavery, and then directly to the roaring twenties when people of color shone bright as entertainers.  True, the Black Renaissance of Harlem was quite remarkable in its own right.  However, the same attention should have come to light when we were professionals in the fields of education, health, and government.  I would like to think that my artful intrepretations can help counterbalance the negative and damaging visuals and perceptions of our ancestors.  I want to share visions of great people of character and civic duty.  I would like to give our children an opportunity to see themselves in people who look just like them, represented in American History in an empowering way.