Deep in the dark swamps of Liberty County, amid the cypress trees and gators, a group of Savannah College of Art and Design students is working on a massive temporal art project.
About 20 students, half architecture majors and half fibers majors, partnered with LeConte Woodmanston Plantation Executive Vice President Mary Beth Evans to create a life-sized memorial for the slaves who once worked on and developed this coastal region.
Later this semester, the students will enter their creation in a national memorial art contest, but the exhibit may open to the public as early as next week.
The SCAD students split into two groups to work on the two-part project.
The first is creating a 231-foot long cordage made of intertwined vines that will loop around the trees on the public walkways and weave through the LeConte land.
“One side of our path that we’re creating is going to imitate the struggle [of slaves] with vines, and the vines are going to show that through their intertwining and creating a wall effect,” said architecture major Christian Fortuno.
“And on the right-hand side of the path will be a controlled free-moving [fiber art piece] entity that stands for the slave owners and that sense and their role in this whole situation. So then, they will come together at a culmination point, forming a canopy.”
Architecture major Mason Eisenberg said in addition to the canopy, the large-scale work of art will have another element, which will rest in an alligator lagoon.
“Down at the lagoon, there’s a clearing at the other side and we decided to coil the names [of all the slaves] in fabric around, so it will basically be like floating names over the water, or they will appear to be floating, like a bridge,” Eisenberg said. “It will look like its floating as if it’s bridging the gap from now to the future.”
The students spent weeks preparing and building the project in the woods, where they occasionally ran across baby alligators and copperhead snakes. The group gathered wood and pulled vines out of vegetation while contemplating the history of the land and the symbolism of their work.
“As much as we are moving forward culturally, our integration, as far as racism and prejudices, we’re not fully there. So we’re alluding on the other side to a future point in time where everyone will be completely integrated,” Fortuno said.
The second group of students is planning a memorial that will go in the middle of LeConte’s rice fields. Although they aren’t as far along with their project as the first group, the participants have a lot of ideas.
“We’ve been talking about human forms. We’ve been talking about the connection of community within the enslaved people of the plantation. We’ve been throwing out ideas about the fibrous netting on top as a canopy for people to walk through, and so we’re just playing around with those ideas,” architecture student Maria Valdez said.
Working with others
SCAD architecture professor LaRaine Papa Montgomery and fibers professor Liz Sargent said the art installation provided the perfect opportunity to teach students about collaboration. In addition to working in conjunction with Evans and the LeConte foundation, the groups come from two distinctly different disciplines, allowing everyone involved to work with people in different fields.
“Collaboration is a big part of the design field
and the art field, and it allows us not only to do something for the community that we have the privilege to live in while we’re in Savannah and going
to school, but it also teaches us how to form bonds
and work through problems that come up when you have to work with a group,” fibers student Mary Johnson said.
Montgomery said the project will result in the temporary installations as well as something more permanent for the grounds.
“They will conclude with a chapel,” Montgomery said. “It’ll hold about 125 people total and it will house multiple functions not just services. It will be used for weddings, parties, and things like that.”
While the chapel is permanent, the other creations are subject to weathering and will eventually fall or be taken down.
She added that these projects will be on display at this year’s Riceboro Rice Festival and will open for public viewing by either Monday or Wednesday of next week, depending on the weather.