John Biggers Seed Project Advisory Committee members met this month at the Chicago Avenue Fire Arts Center to see the new kiln in action, and visit SEED artists as they explained and demonstrated the enameling process.
Observing SEED artists Christopher Harrison, Loretta Day and Christopher Aaron Deanes that day were Advisors Naima Richmond, Sarah Sampedro, Susan Breedlove and Beverly Cottman, along with Mary Altman from the City of Minneapolis & Heather Doyle and Forrest Rossi from CAFAC (and Libby Turner-Opanga behind the camera.)
We (the Seed Project Artists) are creating a public art piece on enameled metal panels that will be attached to the Olson Memorial Parkway overpass bridge in North Minneapolis.
For me, one of the fulfilling aspects of working on the Seed Project is learning and experimenting with the enameling technique.
Researching the method and history of enameling helps inspire me, as well as garner an appreciation for the art form.
Enameling is the process for coloring and ornamenting the surface of metals by fusing brilliant colors over it that are decorated in an intricate design. Powdered glass is fixed to a surface by firing, usually between 750 and 850 °C (1,380 and 1,560 °F). The powder melts, flows, and then hardens to a smooth, durable coating on metal, or on glass or ceramics.
This technique was chosen for the Seed Project for its brilliance and durability under adverse climate conditions. (Hello, Minnesota!). Enameling has been developed over thousands of years, tracing back to the ancient Persians. The Iranian craftsmen of the Sasanied era invented this art, and Mongols spread it to India and other countries. The ancient Egyptians applied enamels to stone objects, pottery, and sometimes jewelry (Wikipedia). The ancient Greeks, Celts, Georgians, and Chinese also used enamel on metal objects, and the technique reached a high point of artistic development in Europe throughout the Middle Ages, beginning with the Late Romans and then the Byzantines.
My primary artistic discipline is that of a painter, so I see enameling as a way of “cementing” my strokes, making them permanent. I love the gloss that is created from reflecting light on the surface. This will make for a beautiful visual experience as viewers pass by the final installed piece. The unpredictability of the medium is also exciting; I like the feeling artistically of never knowing what the fire will bestow until retrieving the panel from the kiln.
There are various techniques that we Seed Artists have been exploring, from stenciling to printing. Sgraffito has been a technique I have appreciated. It consists of an unfired layer of enamel that is applied over a previously fired layer of enamel of a contrasting color, which is then partly removed with a tool to create the design. Sgraffito on walls has been used in Europe since classical times, and it was common in Italy in the 16th century. It can also be found in African art. The technical procedure is relatively simple, and the procedures are similar to the painting of frescoes (Wikipedia). I plan to combine brush painting on my panels with the sgraffito technique.
Enameling is an exciting as well as challenging medium. My goal, along with my fellow Seed Artists is to create a wonderful public piece that contributes to the great lineage of enamel artistry, and presents a long-lasting gift to the community that also honors the memory John Biggers’ original Celebration of Life mural.
On October 24 and 25, the John Biggers Seed Project celebrated a major milestone: completion of a large scale enamel kiln created just for the project and an intensive enamel training by expert David Berfield from Bainbridge Island, Washington.
The 3 x 6 x 6.5’ enamel kiln was constructed at the Chicago Avenue Fire Art Center (CAFAC) and is one of the largest enamel kilns in the United States. David Berfield is best known for fabricating enamel murals by renowned African American artist Jacob Lawrence.
Seed’s13 mid-career artists, and artist mentors Seitu Jones, Tacoumba Aiken, and Bing Davis worked together refine the final design for the 470’ artwork, which in 2015 will be integrated into a new railing on the Olson Bridge spanning Interstate I94. They also practiced enamel techniques under the guidance of Berfield, while Heather Doyle, CAFAC’s artistic director, fired their test panels in the new kiln.
A major emphasis of this groundbreaking project is to build the careers of the next generation of African American public artists and position CAFAC to fabricate enamel public artworks, serving public artists throughout the Midwest. The 13 mid-career artists are also participating in two-year professional development program to learn the skills needed to embark on successful careers.
Jon Onye Lockard was not able to join us for the Master Artists visit with the SEED Artists, October 23-25. But he did send us some words to keep in mind on this journey called The John Biggers Seed Project.
“Art is the voice of a culture. It is also the voice of a community.”
Check out this link to a short video of the new kiln!
Narration: TaCoumba Aiken.
Stoker: Heather Doyle.
Location: Chicago Avenue Fire Arts Center,
38th & Chicago Ave. South, Minneapolis.
As a Seed Artist, I have witnessed so many powerful experiences over the past year. I‘ve been able to make new friendships. I’ve witnessed different creative art styles from each artist. I’ve had an opportunity to work with my former professor, Dr. Bing Davis, from Central State University. I never thought in a million years that I would be among his presence, hearing him speak about this personal belief and the spiritual connection he has with African Adinkra symbols.
Jon Lockard and Bing Davis provided the Seed Family with a written road map to assist us in developing the design for the Seed artwork. Lead Artists Seitu Jones and Tacoumba Aiken felt that, in order to develop this design, we needed to create a story concept, based on the narrative sent by these Master Artists. We decided that we would begin our first design session with each artist reading a passage from this narrative. We took that moment to analyze the words and meanings of Jon and Bing. Their words empowered our minds, body and souls.
Thereafter, we began bouncing words off of one another; explaining and expressing moments that represented the north side community. We all agreed the theme of the story would be created from the word “seed”–the seed represents life. Once we were able to determine the theme, it felt like being a part of an art movement. The group began developing and filling in more details and elements of the story. The story began forming spiritual and emotional beliefs.
Together we are proving to all who may listen, that there is real truth to the notion and belief that art brings together new and old life. Art is the seed of life.
Here is the collective narrative that sprang from this process:
The Beginning of the Seed’s Story
The Bird descends…flying through the concrete jungle, the bird carries a Seed from the Cosmos…It drops the seed amongst the concrete where it falls into a crack…into the black dirt. The hidden stream beneath nourishes the seed. The wise turtle winds a path, which creates a route for seed. Guided by the beat of the drum the Seed synchronizes to a rhythm, a rhythm that contains all the information of its DNA, of life’s DNA. The wise turtle’s path stretches to the crossroads, reaching East and West. The Seed’s roots began to grow and spread and the Seed begins to sprout. As the seed matures into a young sapling…Lightning strikes the soil, splitting the sapling…
Part of the Tree Sapling, now split in half, begins to ascend Black up into the Cosmos…
The other half of the sapling scatters new seeds…the new seeds grow.
Photo credit: Stephanie D. Morris, 2014.
Check out our coverage in North News on the John Biggers Seed Project’s recent Community Event. Thanks!
Community Planning & Economic Development
Rose Lindsay, Communications (W) 612.673.5015
Mary Altman, Public Art Administrator (W) 612.673.3006
Wednesday, June 18 (Minneapolis, MN) – On Thursday, June 19, the artists and partners behind the John Biggers Seed (Seed) project will present the design of the new North Minneapolis gateway from 6:00-7:30 p.m. at the University of Minnesota Urban Research and Outreach-Engagement Center (UROC) located at 2001 Plymouth Avenue North, Minneapolis.
“The storyline and design developed by the Seed artists speaks the same visual language, as spoken by Bing Davis, Jon Lockard, and John Biggers,” said Seed master artist Seitu Jones.
The design was developed in collaboration with the 13 emerging and mid-career artists selected to participate in Seed last fall. Artists include: Mica Lee Anders, Chrys Carroll, Roger Cummings, Patrick Cunningham, Angela Davis, Loretta Day, Christopher Aaron Deanes, Adrienne Doyle, Jeremiah Bey Ellison, Jordan Hamilton, Chris Harrison, Esther Osayande, and Chris Scott. Master artists Willis Bing Davis of Ohio and Onye Lockard of Michigan as well as local artists Seitu Jones and Tacoumba Aiken have been guiding the emerging and mid-career artists along in the creative design process. Davis, Lockard, Jones, and Aiken each worked with John Biggers in the past.
The artwork will be created in porcelain enamel. The medium was selected for its creative potential and durability. Enameling is a similar process to painting or glazing ceramics. Multiple layers of color are applied to steel panels. The panels are then fired multiple times in a kiln. The entire process, including construction of a kiln for this project, is being coordinated by the Chicago Avenue Fire Arts Center. The emerging and mid-career artists are learning the enameling process and fabricating the panels as one goal of Seed is for each of the artists to learn new skills to enhance their marketability beyond the project.
Seed is inspired by the John Biggers Celebration of Life mural and the role the mural played in launching the careers of young artists and organizations and planting artistic “seeds” on the North Side. The new artwork installation will be located along the Olson Highway Memorial Bridge at Interstate 94 at Highway 55. The location, currently an industrial corridor unfriendly to pedestrians, serves as an important connection between the North Side and Downtown. The project aims to build an attractive link between these areas, improving walk-ability by incorporating the colorful imagery influenced by Biggers’ art and the North Side’s history.
The Biggers Seed Project is funded in part by a placemaking National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) grant and matching funds from the City of Minneapolis’ Art in Public Places program. Seed is also supported by the McKnight Foundation’s Region and Communities Program, the Pohlad Foundation, and the North Loop Association.
# # #