Perspective on the Seed Story and Design Process: contributed by Seed Artist Patrick Cunningham

Patrick Cunningham

Patrick Cunningham

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 II

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.

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Thank You, NorthNews, for the coverage!

Check out our coverage in North News on the John Biggers Seed Project’s recent Community Event.  Thanks!

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John Biggers Seed Public Art Design to Be Unveiled at UROC on June 19

City of Minneapolis logo

Community Planning & Economic Development
News Release

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.

For more information, visit the City of Minneapolis website, the Seed Project Blog or follow the project on Twitter.

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Sgraffitto, Textures, Splashing: Observations On Enameling Techniques – contributed by Seed Artist Chrys Carroll Laramy

chrys c

Chrys Carroll Laramy

Working with the Seed Project has been a huge growing experience for me.  As an artist I usually work alone, as many artists do – so I find the chance to work with others especially inspiring. Since we are collaborating regularly in this project, I look forward to each opportunity we engage in our time together. (This group of artists continues to teach and enrich each other!) The opportunity to meet with Master Artist Bing Davis, and having the chance talk with Ta-Coumba Aiken and Seitu Jones on a regular basis and get feedback from the other artists involved is building a community I cherish.  This group of artists is truly outstanding, and I am honored and humbled to be a part of this work..

Enameling is a multi-step process in which each step needs to be executed meticulously in order for the next to work properly. In some ways it’s similar to working in clay, but the care with which one needs to move through the process is very different (Clay it is much more forgiving!) The use of the enamel is different than paint, and quite different than the glaze I use.

There are several enamel processes, all involve applying the enamel pigment (crushed glass suspended in a liquid medium) onto a metal plate and firing it. I seem to be most comfortable with the sgraffito application. The first steps include applying the base coat, firing it and then applying the white cover coat. Then, before firing it again, you scratch into the surface to allow the color from underneath to show through. This allows you to “draw” on the metal. I also enjoy the free-form application of splashing on the enamel pigment or brushing it on. It’s difficult to completely cover an area when using a brush; I prefer the full coverage effect you get when dipping it in the enamel media.

Having the chance to work with enameling expert Barbara Minor earlier this month on design ideas and techniques has been invaluable to the process. I’m excited to see what we come up with.

texturing tools

texturing tools



enameling kiln



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Thursday June 19, 2014 – Community Event to Present the Design

birdThe John Biggers Seed Project
Community Event to Present the Design
Thursday, June 19, 6 to 7:30 p.m.

University of Minnesota Urban Research and
Outreach-Engagement Center (UROC)
2001 Plymouth Avenue North, Minneapolis, MN 55411

You are invited to a presentation by the artists on the design of a new North Minneapolis Gateway as part of the John Biggers Seed project.

This large scale public artwork will be located on the Olson Bridge spanning Interstate 94.

The John Biggers Seed Project (Seed) is a public art and collaborative design effort that engages renowned African American artists in mentoring emerging artists in placemaking by educating them about African American art and community history, providing career development and transferable skills, and creating a sense of place that speaks to the culture of North Minneapolis.

John Biggers Seed Project Artists

Master artists: Willis Bing Davis (Ohio) and Jon Onye Lockard (Michigan)
Local lead artists: Tacoumba Aiken and Seitu Jones
Emerging and mid-career artists: Mica 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.

For more information, visit the City of Minneapolis website at and the Seed Project Blog at or email

If you have questions regarding this event, call 612-673-6220.

Hmong - Ceeb toom. Yog koj xav tau kev pab txhais cov xov no rau koj dawb, hu 612-673-2800;
Spanish - Atención. Si desea recibir asistencia gratuita para traducir esta información, llama 612-673-2700;
Somali - Ogow. Haddii aad dooneyso in lagaa kaalmeeyo tarjamadda macluumaadkani oo lacag la’ aan wac 612-673-3500.


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Enameling Expert Barbara Minor works with Seed Project Artists

Barbara Minor Esther Tacoumba Chris








Sessions to learn enameling techniques were held with John Biggers Seed Project artists at Chicago Avenue Fire Arts Center (CAFAC) April 28 through May 2.


Photo credit: Mary Altman, 2014.

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Learning The Enameling Process – contributed by Seed Artist Esther Osayande

Esther Osayande

Esther Osayande

I’m excited to learn all I can about the enameling process.  It’s an astounding art form! This experience definitely holds a steep learning curve for me.  It’s going to take considerable experimentation to best understand how to work with this art form. But of course, I’m up for the challenge!

Compared to other processes, I can certainly say that the enameling process is a horse of a different color.  Unlike acrylics and watercolors, which are more relaxed and forgiving of mistakes, enamel is ground glass fused onto metal through a high heat process, requiring some specialized skills.  It is also a method where collaboration happens naturally, which is very different from other art forms I typically utilize, where I work completely on my own. 

There are several steps that have to be taken to produce the final piece, and the steps seem fairly simple; but accuracy and order are highly important. If the steps are not followed correctly,  the outcome will not be so good! I think a certain kind of patience will develop with this process, which includes observation of others, lots of trial and error, and a “ramping up” of confidence as techniques are learned and trials start to succeed.

Artistically, it intrigues me how this process exploits the brilliance in color,  and a finished piece’s strength and sturdiness is amazing.  Overall, this learning opportunity is causing me to view art-making through a new lens.  I much admire the enamel artworks I see now, as I become better versed in what all has to happen to make such detailed and durable creations. 

As we Seed Artists build our skills and learn how to control and create lines and shapes with this medium, I can tell that our achievements can be great and long lasting.  It makes me even more certain that our contributions to this project are being captured in the perfect art form – one whose endurance demonstrates a worthiness of representing the legacy of John Biggers and the resilience of North Minneapolis.


Photo credit: Stephanie D. Morris, 2014.

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Community Event Rescheduled

The Seed Community Event to View the Design on Thursday, April 24th has been postponed until later this spring.  Designs will be unveiled during the event featuring the public artwork installed on the railing on the Olson Bridge over I-94 and along Highway 55 as adjacent gateway sculptures.  The Olson Bridge location was selected as the industrial corridor, currently unfriendly to pedestrians, serves as an important connection between the Northside and Downtown. The project aims at building an attractive link between neighborhood and Downtown that improves walk-ability by incorporating the colorful imagery influenced by Biggers’ art and the Northside’s history. Enamel was selected as the medium for its creative potential and durability.  Stay tuned for more information about the rescheduling of the Community Event.

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Observations on the Design Process for the John Biggers Seed Project – by Seed Artist Roger Cummings

rogerSince we are not yet in the design process, I will start where we began and bring you up to speed. This is not really a blog post, but rather more of a summary of past sessions.

Interestingly, I am the same age now (45) as Seitu Jones was when he was leading the Celebration of Life mural project in 1996. As I consider this path toward the completed design of this project, the past 3 months have been really a story of foundation-building, establishing context, and recognition of our connections.

We started our journey on the John Biggers Seed Project with both direct and symbolic acknowledgement to our past, to John Biggers, and to the Celebration of Life mural. Seitu Jones conducted a pouring of libation onto an original piece of the Celebration of Life mural wall. Following this, we each presented a piece of our work, and began to define what public art was to us. As we shared, it was revealed that everyone had a different understanding of what public art was to them – but our expressions were connected in many ways.
(Here’s a link to a video of that experience: Seed Artists on Public Art  )

Along the way so far, we have participated series of meetings intended to educate, bring context, and to help us more closely examine our connections. Seitu Jones presented about artists who have inspired him, how he came to be an artist, and how our lineage was directly connected to the Black Arts Movement and Harlem Renaissance. Historian Suzanne Roberts of Obsidian Arts focused on the life and times of John Biggers; Tacoumba Aiken presented on sacred spirit writing; local curators brought their insights of the significanceof other African American artists, including Kehinde Wiley and social sculptor (and fellow Loeb Fellow) Theaster Gates. We also looked at African-American Quilting traditions and practices to generate design ideas and connections to culture, heritage and community. Lately our team is learning and training under Heather Doyle of the Chicago Avenue Fire Arts Center (CAFAC) on the enamel mediums/processes we will be using for this project, as well as on the kiln we will be l building on site at CAFAC.

We were also privileged to meet with one of the Master artist, Willis Bing Davis, who took us through some of his work process and explained the early concepts of the Biggers Seed design that he created 7 years ago (affectionately referred to as Biggers 1.0), and then some of the newer concepts and the framework for what our project (Biggers 2.0) could be now. So we’ve spent a valuable 3 months framing the context –all before we actually design what will be The Biggers Seed Project.

Because this foundational road to prepare us for designing this work has included history, practical training/preparation, and even some pomp (!) by sharing and celebrating the past, we have identified common frames of reference to apply to our collective design experience. Observing the John Biggers Seed Project through the historical, contextual lens brings me personal pride, and I am motivated to really get cracking on the design,–and nervous, also because the bar is set so high! Our whole team is talented, accomplished and self- determined. I have no doubt that we are not only up for the challenge, we may exceed expectations—making both our ancestors and future generations proud.


Photo credit: Stephanie D. Morris, 2014.

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John Biggers Seed Project Workshop Saturday 2/8/14: The Most Significant African American Artists Working Today


African American Art History Workshops

 Local Curators and Artists Share Their Perspective on
the Most Significant African American Artists Working Today

 Saturday February 8, 9:30-11:30 a.m.

Ben Heywood (the Soap Factory) Nate Young (the Bindery Projects) and Catherine Kennedy (artist) share their thoughts about black artists they feel are creating important work, including Theaster Gates, Xaviera Simmons, Kehinde Wiley, El Anatsui, Charles Gaines, Dave McKenzie, and Tony Lewis.

All events are free and open to the public at

University of Minnesota Urban Research and Outreach-Engagement Center (UROC)
2001 Plymouth Avenue North, Minneapolis, MN 55411

For more information, visit the City of Minneapolis website at or email

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