(In loving memory of Donald S. Hendricks)
"The Girl [Sally Hemings] who is with her [Mary Jefferson] is quite a child, and Captain Ramsey is of opinion will be of so little Service that he had better carry her back with him. But of this you will be a judge. She seems fond of the child and appears good naturd."
Abigail Adams to Thomas Jefferson, 27 June 1787
‘“In 1787, when Jefferson was in Paris, he sent for his eight year old daughter Mary to join him; she was accompanied by the fourteen year old Sally. [Thomas Jefferson, 46, was widowed.] Sally was with him in Paris for about 26 months and, during that time, it is recorded that a rather surprising amount of money was spent on “clothes for Sally.” [216 francs in seven weeks.] She also received an inoculation against small pox by the famous Dr. Robert Sutton. She was undoubtedly trained in needlework and the care of clothing, was paid a salary each month [24 francs], and was given lessons in French. She could have remained in France where she would have been free, but in 1789 she returned to Monticello with Jefferson and was, according to her son Madison, pregnant by him,”’ artist Donald Hendricks writes in the liner notes accompanying his Sally Hemings: An American Legend paper doll.
I purchased the first of two Hemings paper dolls online in 2004 from Legacy Designs, the company founded by Hendricks to market and sell his exquisite hand-signed, limited edition paper dolls. Almost immediately, a lively extended email correspondence blossomed into mutual friendship – I was eager to know of other Black paper dolls he’d created and if there were plans for more. We exchanged wish lists, and entered into protracted discussions about collaborating on a line of paper dolls. Eventually, we met, having had two face-to-face meetings at paper doll events – an exhibition in Los Angeles, and the 2009 annual International Paper Doll Convention in Las Vegas – during the following nine years.
Fond of rendering historic figures in paper doll format, the late Hendricks, who passed on Palm Sunday of this year, studied his subject’s life and fashion trends before creating his stunning Hemings paper doll, and four fetching Parisian ensembles (including classic mob cap, fichu and apron), the type of outfits Jefferson would have purchased for her during their stay in France while he served as United States Minister there.
Before executing his detailed drawings, Hendricks read Thomas Jefferson: An Intimate History by biographer Fawn Brodie and the historic novel Sally Hemings by Barbara Chase Riboud. He also watched the film Jefferson in Paris with Nick Nolte and Thandi Newton. Few details escaped his scrutiny: Included in Jefferson’s household expense ledgers were itemized entries for clothing for his daughter Mary totaling “several times more that of her maid” as well as jewelry – a watch (554 francs) and a ring (48 francs). A locket was also purchased for 40 francs but the recipient’s name was not recorded. Speculating the necklace may have been a gift from Jefferson to his young “mistress,” Hendricks drew its delicate likeness, a heart charm peeking discreetly from the plunging neckline of an ash gray cinched waist striped frock, for the ingenue.
Because there are no known portraits of Hemings (1773-1835), Hendricks drew from his imagination, referencing descriptions from her contemporaries: Thomas Jefferson Randolph described his Aunt Martha’s half-sister and Uncle Thomas’ enslaved “concubine” as "light colored and decidedly good-looking." Blacksmith Isaac Jefferson, enslaved on the same plantation as Hemings, says she was "mighty near white. . . very handsome, long straight hair down her back.”
Known and respected among paper doll illustrators and collectors, Hendricks’ highly sought paper dolls have been featured in museums, including the Tate Modern Museum in London (2005), where his Frida Kahlo paper doll was available. Nevertheless, we were both surprised and thrilled when his Sally Hemings: An American Legend was selected from more than 110 paper dolls as the brochure cover art for the Smithsonian exhibition “Two Hundred Years of Black Paper Dolls: The Collection of Arabella Grayson" in 2006. From there, she’d make her way into the Smithsonian magazine, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Seattle Times, Ebony, Sacramento Bee and dozens of other publications, classroom curricula across the nation, innumerable blog posts, and worldwide viewing on the website dedicated to the collection. She showed up in 2008, eight years after her first printing, when Pulitzer Prize-winning historian Annette Gordon Reed's nonfiction text The Hemingses of Monticello was reviewed in The Sunday Star Ledger (September 14 edition). A year later, she was included in an exhibition at the Craft and Folk Art Museum in Los Angeles.
Though little about “Sable Sally” has survived Jefferson family records, Hemings is one of the few known names of enslaved women from her time, a name that continues to court controversy because of her thirty-eight year relationship with “one of the most important men in history” and the children their union produced. Details are sketchy: questions remain: Historians commonly acknowledge Hemings to have been fourteen years of age, though her actual birthdate is reportedly unknown, when she arrived in France, but according to her son Madison, in his 1873 memoir, his mother “was about eleven years old” when she arrived in Paris. Articles, songs and poems were written about her, and appeared in print when Jefferson’s detractors attacked him in the tabloids of the times. Otherwise, her name was virtually expunged (or libeled) for posterity. But she continues to fascinate, and much has been written in the past two decades, after DNA tests, along with the Hemingses’ family stories, left little doubt that Jefferson was the father of Sally’s children. In fact, in February 2012, the Thomas Jefferson Foundation updated its position on the matter:
- “Based on documentary, scientific, statistical, and oral history evidence, the Thomas Jefferson Foundation (TJF) Research Committee Report on Thomas Jefferson and Sally Hemings (January 2000) remains the most comprehensive analysis of this historical topic. Today TJF and most historians believe that, years after his wife’s death, Thomas Jefferson was the father of the six children of Sally Hemings mentioned in Jefferson's records, including Beverly, Harriet, Madison, and Eston Hemings.”
If you want to know more about Sally Hemings, “an American legend,” I highly recommend Reed’s meticulously researched and masterfully executed tome, which documents in superlative and exhaustive detail four generations of Hemingses, beginning with Sally’s maternal African grandmother and closes with speculation about the fate of the Jefferson/Hemings adult offspring who chose to live as white citizens once they left Monticello. While Sally Hemings life in Paris may have been a small item in the annals of American history, as Reed states, it is “still an instructive window into the workings of a world that no longer exists but whose legacies are still with us.”
ABOUT THE ARTIST
My friend Donald S. Hendricks studied at the Art Student's League in New York. Specializing in high fashion, beauty and lingerie illustrations, his clients and retail accounts included Vassarette, Olga, Max Factor, Lady Schick, Redken; and Mary McFadden, Halston, and Galanos, whose gowns he used in the fashion illustration classes he taught at Riverside Art Museum. His drawings have appeared in the advertising and editorial pages of such magazines as Vogue, Harper's Bazaar, Seventeen, Cosmopolitan, and Hairdo & Beauty. He illustrated more than 40 books, including The International Beauty Book, International Hair Design, Leslie Blanchard's Hair-Coloring Book, the award-winning The Life and Adventures of Lyle Clemens and The Brave Donatella and The Jasmine Thief. His paintings, collages and illustrations have also been exhibited in a number of galleries and museums, including the Gilardi Museum in Italy.
Sources: Hendricks, Donald. "Legacy Designs - About the Artists." Legacy Designs Presents Paperdolls.com, 2003. http://www.paperdolls.com/pages/pdarts.htm#top (accessed June 2, 2013 from the Donald S. Hendricks Papers site – http://www.oac.cdlib.org/findaid/ark:/13030/kt7d5nf1g0/entire_text/.
The Thomas Jefferson Foundation – http://www.monticello.org/site/plantation-and-slavery/appendix-h-sally-h...
Frontline: 1873 The Memoirs of Madison Hemings
Madison Hemings refers to his mother Sally as Jefferson's concubine.
To read more about the collection “Two Hundred Years of Black Paper Dolls,” go to www.arabellagrayson.com.