Print: Feeding Silkworms and Sorting the Cocoons

Thomas Allom
Print: Feeding Silkworms and Sorting the Cocoons
Print, ink on paper
8 in x 10 1/4 in
Collection of Historic Deerfield
Hall and Kate Peterson Fund for Paintings, Prints, Drawings and Photographs
HD 2012.19.3
This print, by English architect Thomas Allom, presents a romanticized view of a Chinese silkworm factory. In the center of the work, a man is setting down two baskets of mulberry leaves, which women on the right are feeding to silkworms. On the left, a man is examining the silkworm’s cocoons while another woman places them into a basket. During the nineteenth century, demand for Chinese silk increased because outbreaks of disease destroyed European silkworm farms. Chinese silk exports doubled between 1868 and 1900, and silk remained the country’s leading export until the 1930s. Despite its economic benefits, silk farming promoted a gendered labor division that had devastating consequences for women living in China’s rural countryside. This print, probably imagined by Allom, represents the stereotypical and constructed understanding that Westerners had of what they referred to as the “Orient.”

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