Our America/Whose America?

Exhibition in the Valentine’s Wickham House features contemporary artists’ responses to depictions of race in historic, commercial ceramics

RICHMOND,VA – The Valentine museum has partnered with Ferrin Contemporary to bring a new exhibition installation to the historic Wickham House, on view from February 20, 2024 to April 21, 2024.

Originally on display at Massachusetts-based ceramics gallery Ferrin Contemporary in 2022, Our America/Whose America? is a call and response exhibition between contemporary ceramic artists and commercially produced historic ceramic plates, figurines and objects collected by curator and ceramic specialist, Leslie Ferrin. Contemporary and historic works are placed in conversation with one another, installed on period furniture throughout the Wickham House, a federal period historic home on the Valentine’s campus built between 1812 and 1815.

Developed over many years, Leslie Ferrin’s collection includes plates, souvenirs, objects and figurines from the early-19th through mid-20th centuries produced in England, Occupied Japan, and various factories in the United States. The exhibition title was chosen from a series of plates produced by a California company, Vernon Kilns, featuring illustrations of American scenes by the painter Rockwell Kent.

In addition to this historic collection, Ferrin invited a group of artists to create new works that provide context and interpretation to the objects. The artists’ contemporary works, all produced in the last decade, were conceived of and reference several recent protest movements that took place or are taking place in Virginia and throughout America. The works present intertwined cultural critiques through the artists’ unique perspective and through lenses like race, gender and class. The plates and sculptures include specific references to the environment, warfare, food and water inequity of the present moment, becoming “souvenirs” of our time with contemporary imagery and social commentary.

Featured contemporary artists include Chris Antemann, Elizabeth Alexander, Russell Biles, Jacqueline Bishop, Judy Chartrand, Cristina Córdova, CRANK, Connor Czora, Michelle Erickson, Steven Young Lee, Jennifer Ling Datchuk, Beth Lo, Justin Rothshank, Paul Scott, Kevin Snipes, Rae Stern, Mara Superior, Momoko Usami and Jason Walker.

“Big public monuments honoring a one-sided past are being addressed, and those towering figures have certainly shaped and reinforced dark or false narratives. But what about the seemingly passive domestic items that have populated the cupboards and walls of countless generations?” says Leslie Ferrin of Ferrin Contemporary, “The most normal looking things—transferware plates, ashtrays, porcelain figurines—can deliver very serious and deleterious messages, especially when viewed daily over the course of time.”

Our America/Whose America? is now being installed in the first floor of the historic Wickham House, a National Historic Landmark that challenges guests to explore aspects of life in the early-19th century. This installation brings a new experience into a space that tells the complicated story of the Wickham family, the home’s enslaved occupants, and the realities of urban slavery.

“This is an opportunity for visitors to be part of a unique conversation in the Wickham House,” says Valentine Director Bill Martin, “By partnering to bring contemporary works into this space we’re able to create a dialogue between historic narratives and the complex issues of today.”

This exhibition is organized by Ferrin Contemporary in conjunction with Coalescence, the 58th annual conference of the National Council on Education for the Ceramic Arts held March 20-23, 2024 in Richmond, Virginia.

To learn more about this exhibition and related events and tours, visit: thevalentine.org


The Valentine has been collecting, preserving and interpreting Richmond’s 400-year history for over a century. Located in the heart of historic downtown, the Valentine is a place for residents and tourists to discover the diverse stories that tell the broader history of this important region.

For more than 40 years, Ferrin Contemporary has been a leading source for contemporary and modern ceramic art. Ferrin Contemporary serves as both a project incubator and traditional commercial gallery program. Curated exhibitions are presented by the gallery and in partnership with galleries, museums, and educational institutions throughout the country.

Our America/Whose America? Exhibition Highlights

Conversations in the Dining Room between eight presidents and the social activists of their time in the formal dining room.

At the Wickham House, Ferrin Contemporary has set the dining room table with Justin Rothshank’s commemorative plates that feature the eight presidents from Franklin Pierce to Chester A. Arthur side by side with noted Native Americans, health workers and anti-slavery activists of the time.

At the head of the table is Abraham Lincoln, seated next to Sojourner Truth and Frederick Douglass. This installation asks visitors to imagine the conversations that could be taking place at this table.

Dining Room Seating Chart:

Abraham Lincoln, 1809-1865
Sojourner Truth, 1797-1883
Franklin Pierce, 1804-1869
Louisa May Alcott, 1832-1888
Rutherford B. Hayes, 1822-1893
Chief Joseph, 1840-1904
James Buchanan, 1791-1868
Hiram Rhodes Revels, 1827-1901
Sitting Bull, 1831-1890
James A. Garfield, 1831-1881
Clara Barton, 1821-1912
Chester A. Arthur, 1829-1886
Ulysses S. Grant, 1822-1885
Ida Wells, 1862-1931
Andrew Johnson, 1808-1875
Frederick Douglass, 1818-1895

Tea in the Parlor

In the Wickham House parlor, Jacqueline Bishop’s porcelain tea service commemorates the meeting of the Indigenous and Enslaved women in her latest work exploring the role of the Market Woman during slavery.

In this set, the two women exchange information about the plants, herbs and flowers that women used to control their fertility and pregnancies. Using historical imagery and research, Bishop leads us to learn more about the important role that this figure, the Market Woman plays in society. She is the face of the Caribbean (see image on Guadalupe plate), she is the pillar of her community and plays a role first established in West Africa.

Also featured in the parlor are works by Paul Scott from his New American Scenery series featuring images of Black Lives Matter and other social protests, (Selma), imprisoned activists (Angola 3), Leonard Peltier.

Press Contact
Christina Swanson