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.
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.
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