Shared Earth Installation

As promised, I’m finally getting around to posting some photographs of the current exhibit at the Masur Museum of Art in Monroe, Louisiana.  There are thirty prints in the show on two floors of the museum.  Each print was created using carbon pigment inks on Canson Edition Etching paper.  Those prints were then attached (using handmade photo corners) to Magnani Pescia printmaking paper and handwritten notes were added to the paper borders.  The exhibit also includes a large projected still image and a display table with artifacts from Poverty Point World Heritage Site.

The work is installed as a timeline that starts with the Lower Jackson Mound (built around 3900-3600 BC) through Poverty Point (1700-1100 BC) and ending with the Pargoud Mound (built around AD 1100-1540.)

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Some of the photos include artifacts or archaeological drawings.

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Most of the emphasis of the exhibit is on Poverty Point in celebration of its recent inscription as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

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This is a piece illustrating some of the different types of PPOs (Poverty Point Objects) found at the site.

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And this is the projected image of the large (bird mound) at Poverty Point.

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It’s been a long time from my first blog post back in July of 2011 to the completion of this body of work.  With this exhibit and an upcoming book (Poverty Point: Revealing the Forgotten City, LSU Press, release date of April 2015, co-authored with Diana Greenlee) and possible venues where this exhibit may travel, I am still amazed at the journey.  I really thought when I started that I was just creating a historical document that few people would find interesting.  But I believed in it and you believed in it.

You helped me begin the project with your financial contributions that paid for equipment and paper and ink and gas.  And you kept it going over the years with your words of encouragement.

I recently had a conversation with someone I had never met before.  She introduced herself and told me she had visited the exhibit, had studied each photograph and read each note and felt herself completely immersed in the timeline of these ancient mounds.  I hugged her and told her THAT made the whole project worthwhile.  And THAT would never have happened without the support of all of you.

Thank you.

 

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Shared Earth at the Masur Museum

Another milestone for this project … an upcoming exhibit at the Masur Museum of Art in Monroe, Louisiana.  My wish is that all of you can see it while it is up.  It is your exhibit, too.  I will share pictures of the installation once it is complete.

Thank you all for making this project happen.

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The Doers

I am working on a Poverty Point project today and was thinking about their building such monumental earthworks.  And their coming up with such a visionary idea and seeing it through.  And how we remember and celebrate their efforts … not the efforts of the culture who thought building such earthworks was too bizarre or too much work.  That it could never be done.  That hunting and fishing and gathering was good enough.  That it wasn’t “normal” to want to build something so spectacular.  That supporting those builders was a waste of resources.  That it wasn’t even necessary!  Besides, who is going to buy it?

So grateful for the ones who thought it could be done.  Then did it.

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Poverty Point.  Mound B.  Done.

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A Look Back … and Forward

On this, the last day of 2013, I am pausing to reflect on my Shared Earth project, what has been accomplished and what the future may hold.  Over this past year two handmade books were created … one of the mounds timeline and one of Poverty Point.  And the prints had their first outing on the walls of the Livaudais Gallery in Monroe.

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It was incredible for me to see those images going around the room … from Watson Brake, built over 5000 years ago, to Poverty Point to Boothe Landing to McGuffee and on and on to Pargoud Landing, built AD 1100-1500.  Standing inside the timeline, surrounded by photographs of the sacred ground of the moundbuilders, reinforced my understanding of how connected we are.  There is no doubt that the ground I stand on was handed off to me, to us, and that we will soon hand it off to someone else.

Some of the prints from this exhibition were purchased and are now hanging in people’s homes.  The handmade books are scattered across the country.  I hope they continue to teach this lesson of our ancient past and help us all better understand our sharing of this land and our contributions to its future.

I have met so many wonderful people along the way – landowners, archaeologists, enthusiasts.  I have held artifacts in my hands, felt their textures and tried to imagine their makers.  I’ve spent countless hours walking the sites, standing on top of mounds, researching them and trying to understand their stories.  And I have studied the photographs I have taken, trying to find the ones that best portray the character and life of the sites they represent.

This project is continuing and as I write this today, I am working on text and photographs for a book project that should be published in 2015.  Two prints will hang in a group show in Banff in February.  And a museum exhibit of this work is planned for October 2014.  All of this is way more than I dared to dream when I first began back on a warm summer day in 2011.  I continue to be entranced by these sacred places and am so grateful to all of you for taking this journey with me.

Happy New Year Everyone!

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Mound E, Poverty Point, December 30, 2013

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Shared Earth Exhibit

It’s been months since I have posted to this blog but I finally have something newsworthy to add.  I will be showing work from this project for the first time at Joli Livaudais’ gallery in Monroe during the December Art Crawl.

This work would never have gotten this far without the generous support of all of you here.  All of you.  From donations to positive comments to pushing me to never give up on it, you helped me bring this project to life and have made this exhibit possible.  My heartfelt thanks to you all.

Downtown Gallery Crawl

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The Ancient City of Poverty Point

I have just completed the second handmade book in the 3-book series from this project!  It is a softcover book about the late (late archaic anyway), great city of Poverty Point.  It has taken WAY longer than I expected due to some technical difficulties with dyeing the covers but I now have a couple of them finished and more in the works.

Some of you may remember my endeavor to make black walnut dye from walnuts gathered at Poverty Point.  My idea was to use that dye on the covers of this book which are made from thick handmade mulberry paper.  Here they are … dyed, dried, rinsed then hanging up to dry again.

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Inside the book are 11 images and 11 pages of text bound together with waxed linen thread.  I used a variation of a 4-hole Japanese binding technique described by Kojiro Ikegami who was born in 1908 and was a master bookbinding craftsman.  I know, what does Japan have to do with ancient earthen mounds in Louisiana?  But … I liked the idea of the technique being handed down to him from generations of bookbinders, then to me, across both time and space.  They are printed using carbon inks on cotton paper, measure approximately 6×9 inches and look like this:

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I will be slowly making more of them which will be offered for sale on my website.  I don’t like adding commercial stuff to this blog but I don’t know of a better way to reach some of you.  Like the previous book, groundwork, this one will be offered at a lower price for a month or so to allow the followers of the project to purchase one as reasonably as I can price it.  After that, the price will go up to help support my continuing efforts with these mounds – there are exhibits to launch and educational displays to construct and more good things along the way.

Thanks to ALL of you who have stayed with this project.  Your support is much appreciated!

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Thoughts on a Rainy Afternoon

I am winding down the photography part of this project.  I’m not stopping altogether but I have enough photos for my handmade books, for an exhibit, for me to study and contemplate what to do next.  There are still sites I want to visit but I can now do them leisurely, weaving them into other work that I am doing.

The first mounds book, “groundwork”, is finished.  I am nearing completion of another one about Poverty Point.  I have a local exhibit of this work scheduled for December.  So it feels like I am finally able to stop, catch my breath and look back at where I have been, what I have seen and what I have learned.

And there is one thought that has stayed with me throughout this project.  And that is the idea that this earth really is shared.  The changes that the mound builders made on the landscape are still here; they can be seen by us all these centuries later.  And while I stand on the ground that they moved and shaped and built, I know that people in the future will stand on what we leave behind.

And because of that I feel a greater responsibility, a greater awareness of our effects on the planet.  If a pile of dirt can last for 5000 years, how long will a pile of plastic water bottles last?  I know, I know, we hear dire reports of our destructive impact on the planet every day.  But whether or not I believe all of them or become alarmed by them or change my way of life because of them, I think about them even more because of this project.  I consider more seriously what effect I have on the earth that I pass over every day.  And I think more about what I want to leave behind.

Because our changes to the earth really do last.

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Mound A, Poverty Point, 1700-1100 BC.

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Black Walnut Stew

Yesterday I sat outside on a nice, sunny 70 degree afternoon and shelled a large tub of rotten black walnuts that had been soaking in water overnight.  Beneath the shells were hundreds, thousands of ants.

These aren’t ordinary walnuts – they were gathered from the ground beneath a black walnut tree that grows at Poverty Point (with permission from the site manager.)  And they will be cooked down into a (hopefully) thick, dark liquid that I will use as a dye on another project.

As I sat outside, cross-legged on the ground and shelled the walnuts I thought about the ancient people at Poverty Point.  They weren’t farmers so they would have gathered nuts, probably even black walnuts, and removed the husks in a similar way.  While I discarded the nuts for the squirrels and raccoons, they would have been an important part of their diet (the nuts as well as the squirrels.)  When finished, I was left with a pile of husks, the ant colony and the pot of water they had been soaking in.

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I have the pot of walnuts cooking on my stove this morning.  Somewhere in the vast world of the internet someone wrote that the aroma smelled like decaying limbs and leaves and was not unpleasant.  I’m not sure that Febreze will want to replace their “Linen and Sky” scent with it, but it’s not too bad so far.  These will cook at least a day, maybe longer, until the stew reaches the desired level of deep, rich brown that I’m after.

According to a book written by Daniel Moerman called “Native American Ethnobotany” (yes, again, the internet) black walnut bark was used by the Cherokee, Chippewa and Meskwaki to make dye.  I’m not sure how this experiment will turn out but spending some time with Poverty Point walnuts and a Native American process seems like a good way to spend a now dreary March weekend.

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groundwork

I knew when I embarked on this project that I wanted to make a handmade book from some of the images, one day, when I could put the camera down for a while and concentrate on it.  And that’s what I have been doing for the past few weeks.

I thought about all the sites I’ve visited and felt them trail along behind me, fluttering in the dim past, connecting me to whatever was out there before I existed.  The more I considered that idea the more an accordion book seemed suited to the way I was feeling.  So I put together a folding book of eight photographs, earthworks from northeastern Louisiana that stretch from approximately 3600 BC to AD 1650, the longest span of time for earthen mounds anywhere in the US.  The title of the book is simply groundwork.

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When opened fully, the book is roughly 4 feet long with hard covers at each end.

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The interior pages are printed using smooth uncoated Fabriano Artistico paper, a creamy yellow paper that feels old in my hands.  Unlike traditional coated inkjet paper, the Fabriano allows the carbon ink dots to bleed a little giving the images a soft, not quite sharp appearance.  That’s how the mounds feel to me, never fully seen and understood, always a bit mysterious.  Also, since the Fabriano paper mill was established in Italy in 1264, it seems only fitting to use their paper for this project.

There is a timeline running the length of the book starting with the period before moundbuilding began, then to Watson Brake, flowing through the earthworks, passing through me and on and on and on.  I added a bit of text at the end that reflects my connection to these sacred places and my wonder at what we are leaving behind for those who follow us.

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Designing this book, making mockups, messing them up, redoing them, trying again and still finding slight imperfections no matter how careful I tried to be only serve to remind me of how fallible we are.  And that makes the continued existence of these earthworks and the artifacts recovered from them, after so many thousands of years, that much more remarkable.

I am slowly making more copies of this book and have them on my website here.  Eventually I plan on making another book about Poverty Point as well as one on Watson Brake.  They won’t be accordion books but what they will be, hmmm, I’m not quite sure.  But I’ll post them here, one day, whenever I figure that out.

Thanks again to everyone who has made this project possible.  You know who you are.

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Poverty Point World Heritage Site Nomination

I received my gorgeous copy of Poverty Point’s nomination to become a World Heritage site this week.  It is an amazing book.

PP_Nomination_Book_1070845Chocked full of up-to-date information, graphs, pictures and tables, it is everything you have ever wanted to know about Poverty Point and then some.  It required an incredible amount of work to compile it, write it, rewrite it, design it, have it reviewed, rewrite it again and on and on.  Kudos to everyone involved but particularly to Dr. Diana Greenlee, station archaeologist, for maneuvering through the chaos of having so many people giving her input and still finding a way to create such a monumental document.

The aerial cover shot is by Susan Guice from Biloxi, MS.

How cool is that???

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