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Who was one of the most versatile artists of the Art Nouveau Movement?

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Art Nouveau
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Art Nouveau was a phenomenon with many faces. Between 1890 and 1910, artists developed a variety of styles from the plant-like forms of the Belgian-French Art Nouveau to the ornamentation of the Viennese Secession. They were all striving to create a new, modern style and pursued a comprehensive renewal of art and, in some countries, a renewed national identity.

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 The Reign of King Cotton
by Bob Brooke


Way down South in the land of cotton, old times there are not forgotten. Look away, look away, look away Dixieland.” So go the opening lyrics of a song that became the anthem of the American South and eventually the Confederacy. The culture, everyday day life, and the Civil War were all a result of a simple shrub that bore puffy white fruit—cotton.

The ancients called it tree wool. Some held that it was the real "golden fleece" sought by Jason the Argonaut. Historians believe the people of India were the first to weave it into a fabric so delicate that it disappeared when wet. Today, cotton is commonly available to everyone, but back then it was so costly that only the wealthy could afford to wear it.

In the Indus River Valley in Pakistan, cotton was being grown, spun and woven into cloth 3,000 years BC. ... Arab merchants brought cotton cloth to Europe about 800 A.D. When Columbus discovered America in 1492, he found cotton growing in the Bahamas. By 1500, cotton was known generally throughout the world.

Cultivation of cotton as a true crop didn’t begin in America until after the Revolutionary War, yet by the end of the 18th century, demand exceeded production. American cotton production soared from 156,000 bales in 1800 to more than 4,000,000 bales in 1860—a bale is a compressed bundle of cotton weighing between 400 and 500 pounds. But growing and processing cotton was labor intensive. The seeds are planted in spring and cotton plants grow into green, bushy shrubs about three feet high. The plants briefly grow pink and cream colored flowers that once pollinated, drop off and are replaced with “fruit”, better known as cotton bolls. For every five bales turned out by one man in a season, 12 hours a day would be spent separating seeds from the filament.

Eli Whitney solved this problem in 1793 and cotton production rose from 487,000 pounds to 6.200.000 pounds in just three years, triggering; a manufacturing and social upheaval. By the early 1830s, the United States produced the majority of the world’s cotton.

When America became the main supplier for English textile mills, the need for both plantations and the slaves to work them grew. Before the American Civil War, cotton produced in the American South had accounted for 77 percent of the 800 million pounds of cotton used in Great Britain. In the North large processing centers employing the latest machines were established in New England, resulting in a drop in prices that increased demand further. At the time, the the economy seemed to revolve around cotton.

Cultivation of cotton using black slaves brought huge profits to the owners of large plantations, making them some of the wealthiest men in the U.S. prior to the Civil War. In the non-slave-owning states, farms rarely grew larger than what could be cultivated by one family due to scarcity of farm workers. In the slave states, owners of farms could buy many slaves and thus cultivate large areas of land. By the 1850s, slaves made up 50% of the population of the main cotton states: Georgia, Alabama, Mississippi, and Louisiana. Slaves were the most important asset in cotton cultivation, and their sale brought profits to slave owners outside of cotton-cultivating areas. Thus, the cotton industry contributed significantly to the Southern upper class's support of slavery.

Secure in their importance, Southern planters defied the world to restrict their rights. "You dare not make war upon cotton; no power on earth dare make war upon it. Cotton is king:" Senator James Hammond of South Carolina declared before the Civil War proved him wrong.

Cotton wasn’t simply a Southern phenomenon. Cotton was one of the world’s first luxury commodities, after sugar and tobacco, and was also the commodity whose production most dramatically turned millions of black human beings in the United States themselves into commodities. Cotton became the first mass consumer commodity.

So interconnected and overlapping were the economies of the cotton plantation, the Northern banking industry, New England textile factories and a huge proportion of the economy of Great Britain helps us to understand why it was something of a miracle that slavery was finally abolished in this country at all. New England mills consumed 283.7 million pounds of cotton, or 67 percent of the 422.6 million pounds of cotton used by U.S. mills in 1860.” In other words, on the eve of the Civil War, New England’s economy, so fundamentally dependent upon the textile industry, was inextricably intertwined, as Bailey puts it, “to the labor of black people working as slaves in the U.S. South.

Therefore, the ultimate cause of the Civil War was King Cotton.

After Reconstruction, cotton resumed its throne, despite a new social order that forced plantation owners to deal with their workers on a business basis. It was still a year long, labor-intensive pursuit. In January, fields were cleared of the old stalks. February was a month for repair of fences and farming implements. Plowing and planting was done in March. Plants appeared in April, triggering the never-ending work of keeping weeds, worms and weevils at bay.

By July, the plants were tall and "water furrows" were plowed deep for the rainy season of rust and rot. The first bolls were ready for picking by the end of the month and continued ripening up until the Christmas holidays. Ginning and baling was done throughout the picking season.

More than ever, cotton seemed to be king. By 1878, America boasted at least1,000 large factories engaged in the spinning, weaving, finishing, dyeing and decorating of cotton cloth, yarns and thread by the latest and most efficient machines. Cotton fabrics had become a necessity of American life, used in bedding, underwear, white shirts, cotton flannels and the waists and summer dresses of women.

Only thread sold in greater quantity.

The largest of the thread mills at Willimantic, Conn., turned out 4,000 pounds of thread a day at. top capacity, and the country turned out an estimated total of 149,000,000 pounds of threads, yarns and twine in 1874. Thread companies flourished, each flaunting the superior quality of their product through imaginative advertising. One of the features at the 1884 New Orleans Exposition was a representation of the old tower at Newport in spools of thread – a fitting symbol of the lengths to which manufacturers would go to promote their wares.

Collectors prize spool cabinets that both advertised and housed a company's thread in stores all over America, paying from $200 to more than $1,000 depending on style and condition. Some were simple two-drawer chests with plain paper labeling. Others featured glass-insert drawers and lift-tops. The best were self-contained desk-types that could classify as furniture. Even wooden thread spools are collected. Prices run from $2-3 each if the logo is intact and some of the original thread remains. Empty wooden spools with no brand sell two or three for $1 at most flea markets.

Fortunately for those on a budget, thread companies issued thousands of colorful advertising trade cards that survive in surprising numbers. Prices for these range from $5-15, depending on quality, image and condition. As with other trade cards, common images and scenics bring the least. Blacks pictured on any card drive prices up from $15-35, however, and any depiction of cotton picking – whether the product being advertised is related or not – guarantees collector interest.

Mass-produced souvenir postcards are the exception, and a view of fields full of pickers or of cotton bales stacked on a wharf is unlikely to bring more than $1-3 unless early and unusual. Real photo post-cards of limited production generate enough excitement to earn $15-35, while actual photographs can soar into three figures if early enough and desirable enough.

Prints, advertising signs and product containers that find a reason to represent cotton picking or the handling of bales are sought by collectors of black Americana. There is also a great deal of interest and curiosity about early cotton plantations – a curiosity that was shared by the Victorians and resulted in occasional articles on the subject in publications of the time.

King Cotton had been nearly dethroned by the time of the 1884 New Orleans "Cotton" Exposition. In fact, the organizers actually struck from the title and purpose of the fair. Corn, some proclaimed, was the true king. Westward expansion after the Civil War had changed everything but the continuing usefulness of cotton. Applications were found for its seeds. and their oil. Even the stalk proved to be excellent thatch and basket fiber. And who can think of that time without an image of airy white cotton dresses floating across the perfect green lawn of a Victorian summer day?

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