This is the time of year when we start planning our Summer week-long TPS courses at the University of the Arts. I get to dream up projects and field trips, think about potential speakers, and talk to artists who we might visit. It is the kind of creative, collaborative work I love.
My mind has been on maps, architecture, cities and change. We’re planning a course for this summer that should encompass those ideas and will touch on a wide variety of primary sources. While brainstorming projects, and searching Library of Congress resources for this new class, I was thinking about how I have used google maps to compare historic photographs of street scenes to a contemporary view in some of my TPS courses. I wondered how I might expand upon that idea for a hands-on art project. This is a first for me, since I am neither an artist or a classroom teacher, so what follows may be a little rough. I’d love to hear your take on it.
Our cities have changed and been shaped by our transportation systems. The highway system has had a great impact on neighborhoods in many urban areas. Areas of Baltimore, New York, Philadelphia, Seattle, Los Angeles and Miami have completely changed due to the interstate highway system coming though the city. When Interstate 94 in St. Paul, MN was constructed in the 1960s, it ran through the heart of the Rondo neighborhood, which was a primarily African American community, splitting it in half. I wondered if the effect of this division could be explored and better understood through art.
I'm interested in making a project based on maps and photographs of what was once the Rondo neighborhood. First, I'll make a simple linocut, based on a current street and highway map, perhaps even using Google maps as a source.
Next, I'll examine the primary source material from the neighborhood’s heyday. I'll look for oral histories, newspaper articles, photographs, and maps. Using these materials, I could do drawings of homes, businesses, or street views that no longer exist in light pencil on watercolor paper, going over my pencil drawing with white wax crayon.
Over my crayon drawings, I could make waterproof ink line drawings based on historic maps, showing the grid of streets that were demolished for the highway. I found the detail below by using Zoom into Maps https://www.loc.gov/collections/panoramic-maps/about-this-collection/ to find a panoramic map of St. Paul from 1883.
On top of all of this, I'll print the linocut of the current highway map. As a final step, I'll use watercolors to lightly cover the entire surface of the paper, revealing the crayon drawing beneath.
My idea was inspired by Diane Burko’s work on climate change. http://www.dianeburko.com/. She uses the medium of the paint itself to communicate the feeling of glaciers breaking into icebergs, and melting into the sea. Another artist who uses her medium to convey a concept is Kathryn Clark, http://www.kathrynclark.com/foreclosure-quilts.html who cuts away rectangles of fabric, or even pulls out individual treads of her quilts to create maps of foreclosed homes.
I’m going to test my idea in the coming days, and will post the result, even though, as I have said, I am no artist. I’m hoping that the final piece will show the layers of the physical structures, as well as convey the sense of loss, or perhaps ghostly revelation of what lies beneath our current urban landscape. I can imagine doing this with a rural landscape as well, thinking about native prairie turned to farmland, and eventually suburban sprawl, for instance.
Some of the resources I used for this post are linked below:
“Collection of interviews, created by Hand in Hand Productions, capturing the lives and experiences of long time residents of St. Paul, Minnesota's Rondo community, an urban neighborhood situated near the city's downtown commercial district. A mixed neighborhood with respect to ethnicity and income, it has been home to a significant African American population since the early 1900s and was a particularly vibrant community in the 1930s. The neighborhood was essentially devastated by the construction of Interstate Highway 94 through its center in the 1960s. Many of its African American inhabitants, businesses, churches, fraternal orders, and social clubs were displaced into more segregated locales where they faced discrimination in housing and other areas.” https://www.loc.gov/folklife/civilrights/survey/view_collection.php?coll_id=966
A webpage about the Rondo Neighborhood: http://saintpaulhistorical.com/items/show/160
A search of Chronicling America for “Rondo” results in lots of records from The Appeal. The Appeal was a Black newspaper, founded in 1885, based in St. Paul. http://www.aaregistry.org/historic_events/view/appeal-newspaper-was-popular-20th-century-black-america Take a look through the newspaper articles and advertisements to get a feel of the neighborhood.
From Chronicling America. The image shows houses in the Rondo Neighborhood in 1910.
The Minnesota Historical Society has images from the neighborhood before the highway went through: http://collections.mnhs.org/cms/largerimage.php?irn=10068533&catirn=10667597&return=q=photograph%20and%20rondo
Rondo Street Police Station, Rondo and Western, St. Paul.
Children on Rondo St. Edward, Edith and Walter Fairbrother, Rondo Street, St. Paul.
A woman and child walking down a street in the neighborhood: Nettie Gardner and Rose Marie Gardner.
A 1946 map of the proposed route for I94.
A panoramic map of St Paul from 1883. I used this map for the detail above.