The Road Less Traveled Exhibition Series


Heather Hart

Sep. 10, 2017 - Jan. 21, 2018

Dr. Charles Smith’s art environment, the African-American Heritage Museum + Black Veterans Archives, traces a national narrative of violence and racism from the Middle Passage to the present day. In the gallery, artist Heather Hart’s site-specific installation provided a literal and figural platform for Dr. Smith’s iconic sculptures.

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Ends Jan. 2018

About this exhibition

When Dr. Charles Smith (b. 1940) was fourteen, his father was killed in what local officials described as a “ferry accident,” but Smith surmises it was a racially motivated murder. In 1955, Smith’s mother took her children to the funeral of Emmett Till, a fourteen-year-old African American boy who was brutally killed by white racists. Attending Till’s funeral profoundly affected Dr. Smith, embedding the searing feelings about racism that later informed his sculptures.

In 1986, Dr. Smith purchased a home in Aurora Township, Illinois. He dedicated himself to transforming his home and yard into a sculptural environment commemorating the people and events of African American history. He also began using the self-designated “Dr.” to connote the learned status he had achieved from life experience.

By 1999, Dr. Smith’s African-American Heritage Museum + Black Veterans Archives reportedly had close to 600 sculptures and 150 fixed monuments. His art environment was an open invitation for all who passed by to consider the struggle, sacrifice, and creativity of the African American experience. In 2000, he and Kohler Foundation, Inc. removed 448 sculptures for preservation. Over 200 were gifted to the John Michael Kohler Arts Center. Dr. Smith is now working on an environment with similar themes in Hammond, Louisiana.

Artist Heather Hart (NY) uses architectural forms mixed with family and oral histories, multiple narratives, and participatory engagements as integral components in much of her creative work. For this exhibition, she continued her exploration of community spaces to consider and challenge the evolving socio-political landscape. She created site-specific architecture to house and interact with twenty of Smith’s sculptures. Hart’s piece was designed to facilitate multiple congruent streams of communication between Smith, herself, the work, and the public.

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Dr. Charles Smith at the African-American Heritage Museum + Black Veterans Archive. Photo: Larry Harris.


Heather Hart

Heather Hart is an interdisciplinary artist who fuses fabricated and historical belief systems to produce works of art that invite people to participate and engage by bringing their own frames of reference and ideas.

Hart was an artist-in-residence at LMCC Workspace, Skowhegan School of Painting and Sculpture, Robert Blackburn Printmaking Workshop, Santa Fe Art Institute, and Bemis Center for Contemporary Arts among others. She has received grants from Joan Mitchell Foundation, Harpo Foundation, Harvestworks, Jerome Foundation, the Awesome Foundation, and New York Foundation for the Arts. Hart studied at Cornish College of the Arts and Princeton University, and received her MFA from Rutgers University.

Dig a Little Deeper...

Read a special Q & A from the responder, Heather Hart, in our gallery handout.

If you want to learn even more about Dr. Charles Smith, you can purchase an in-depth publication from our online store or at ARTspace.

Heather Hart discusses her response to this exhibition.
Take a tour of Dr. Smith's art environment in Hammond, LA.
Queens and Kings

The Road Less Traveled Conference

Dig deeper into conference sessions, view panelist bios and abstracts, read session descriptions, and continue the conversation in session forums by visiting The Road Less Traveled conference portal.

Through this web portal, you will be able to share new ideas and broaden the collective knowledge and appreciation of this unique style of art making that was the focus of a yearlong series of exhibitions at the Arts Center.

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