Saturday, July 13, 2013

Hucksters and Housekeepers

Frederiksted Huckster, 1900 Danish Maritime Museum

Several of the people who owned my house were women. During the Danish colonial time women were able to obtain freedom by a variety of ways. One of them was by being a huckster, an itinerant vendor who sold bread, fruit, herbs or vegetables and with the money they earned some were able to purchase their freedom.

Oceana James as a Huckster for the film "The House That Freedom Built", July 2013
 The huckster is another version of the quintessential image of a Caribbean market lady. From the perspective of a visual artist I have often felt that these images have often been over-used and romanticized in painting. While doing this project I have gained a new understanding for the fortitude of these women and a new appreciation for who they were and what they represent. Simple things, like trying to find a tray/ basket that was the right size for our reenactment made me understand that these women would want a tray large enough to carry enough goods to make money, but not too large that you couldn't bear the weight. And then of course one imagines these women walking around often balancing this weight on their heads.
Oceana James as a "Housekeeper". Effects test for the film "The House That Freedom Built", July 2013

And then there is the more controversial image of the "housekeeper". Often Danish men would have come to the colonies without their families. Although it was illegal for them to marry women of color and even live with them in a romantic capacity, the position of a "housekeeper" was legal. This would be a woman who worked for a Danish officer in his home, the use of quotations signifies that this relationship was often more than laundry and cooking. It was often also sexual and might have also produced children. These liasons were also one of the ways that women could obtain their freedom.

Oceana James as a Huckster for the film "The House That Freedom Built", July 2013
Sayeeda Carter as a Huckster for the film "The House That Freedom Built", July 2013

Two beautiful actors worked on these representations with me, Oceana James and Sayeeda Carter. It was a fun day. We worked in the late afternoon so the lighting was beautiful. Several people stopped us while filming to ask about the project and they were very intrigued. Since our entire town is historic is was amazing how quickly you were transported back in time.

Although there are some photographs like the one below of "Big Mouth Catherine" that I may be able to use for the film. I wanted some more diversity in my imagery. My cameraman, Bill Stelzer, talked about why historical images tend to look the way they do, why the portraits all seemed to have a despondency or emptiness in the expression.
Huckster, "Big Mouth Catherine", 1890 Danish Royal Library

He reminded us that taking a picture in the 1800's meant that a subject would have had to stand still for several minutes often resulting in a certain "stiffness". Videotaping our actors gave another dimension of life: smiles, gestures, etc. I look forward to seeing how it all fits together in the film.
Sayeeda Carter and Oceana James as Hucksters for the film "The House That Freedom Built", July 2013


  1. How and where can I see "The House That Freedom Built"?

    1. Hi Starr! Thanks for your comment! If you are speaking of seeing the film, it's not completed yet. If you put your email in to the "follow by email" column I will be sure to let you know when it is done. We are slated for 2015. If you are referring to the actual property however, it's located on 18B East St, Christiansted. I plan on doing a "house tour" as well in 2015.

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