For enthusiasts of early banjo
The original painting , "The Banjo Man," is hung in the Valentine Historical Museum in Richmond, VA. It was painted in either 1815 0r 1813--I have found varying accounts. In either case Mr. Sweeney would have been far too young to have invented the banjo depicted in it. I would guess the painting is probably from the South due to the early date and the fact that it's being played by an African American gentleman. There is a close-up picture of the banjo archived in Banjo Hangout in a discussion about hanging ribbons from banjos (the banjo is beribboned), from July ,2010. From the close-up picture it appears the banjo does have a circular wooden rim, there is a drone string, and the instrument has at least four and possibly five strings. The painting is in need of repair so the details are not as crisp as they might be.--Rob Morrison.
It sure looks like an instrument that we could probably all pick up and get a tune out of without too much difficulty.
I found more info on "The Banjo Man." The artist was an Englishman born in 1780 who died in 1854. He moved to Richmond VA and established himself in 1812 as a "portrait painter in oil." His most famous painting is "The Sword Swallower" which now hangs in the Valentine Museum in Richmond along with "The Banjo Man." In 1816 he estalished the Virginia Museum in Richmond. He spent the rest of his career in Virginia. So I thinks it's fairly certain the scene depicted, given the time frame, took place in Virginia and probably in or near Richmond.--Rob Morrison
The guy's name was Sy Gilliat -- he had been a slave to Lord Botetourt in Williamsburg and a well known fiddle player, who played for the (British colonial) governor's balls and so on. (No rude jokes about that, I mean dances that he hosted.) There is some question whether the banjo man is the fiddler or his son, if he had a son; anyway there was a Sy Gilliat in Richmond later, who I believe was a free person of color in a census before the Civil War. But I don't believe that later Sy would have been this old in 1813.
There is some documentation of the painting in Iconography of Music in African=American Culture, 1770s-1920s, by Eileen Southern and Josephine Wright.
Hmm...I look at that painting and I think that could easily be a large gourd banjo. Thornburg makes some big gourd banjers like that. Lots of gourd banjos look just like that when viewed mostly from the front.
What makes you all so positive it's a hoop banjo?
The little boy is pointing right at it, and he is obviously say "Hoop...Hoop".
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