Bowdoin College Museum of Art

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Image of American Icons: Untitled (Salt and Pepper Shakers) 36743


Carrie Mae Weems (Portland, Oregon, April 20, 1953 – )


American Icons: Untitled (Salt and Pepper Shakers)

Creation Date



late 20th century


14 1/4 x 14 1/4 in. (36.2 x 36.2 cm)



Creation Place

North America, United States

Medium and Support

silver gelatin print on paper

Credit Line

Archival Collection of Marion Boulton Stroud and Acadia Summer Arts Program, Mt. Desert Island, Maine. Gift from the Marion Boulton "Kippy" Stroud Foundation


This artwork may be under copyright. For further information, please consult the Museum’s Copyright Terms and Conditions.

Accession Number

The “icons” in this otherwise mundane, domestic tableau are a pair of salt-and-pepper shakers, a functional object one might see in any American kitchen. Except in this image, the salt-and-pepper shakers on the counter are figured as Mammy and Sambo, respectively. These wide-grinning, subservient figures exemplify American society’s view of enslaved African women and men during the nineteenth and into the twentieth century. Imagery such as this existed in present-day commercial products such as Aunt Jemima’s pancakes, which in 2021 was recently rebranded. One recognizes the quiet, social critique that Weems has intended; but for whom are these stereotyping tchotchkes “icons”? We may like to imagine that the American culture that created, marketed, and purchased these racist items is a thing of the past, but, as the picture shows, it has not disappeared. Weems’s photograph captures and speaks directly to pervasiveness of this culture and the subtlety of its evolution, which echoes larger ones within our society.

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