Narrating the Lowcountry – Charleston to Savannah (pt.2)

Upcoming, April 2013 – Artist/Designer Jill Kinnear will present her recent creative project, Architecture of the South, at SCAD, Savannah.

While ornament is encoded with history it is also capable of masking it.  In Savannah, there is a focus on heritage through the popular but select reading of the city’s historical decoration and architecture.  The limitations of this reading reveal the omissions and distortions; a White mythology.  Irwin-Zarecka notes that when stories remain untold ‘there are strong indications indeed of a past confined to oblivion’.   Through a series of layers of architectural imagery these shawls mimic this contemporary process of misrepresentation and screening, and subtly record other markings within the architectural environment; marks less noted but of primary significance.

Image: Architecture of the South 1 (detail) by Jill Kinnear
References: Iwona Irwin-Zarecka, 1994, Frames of Remembrance: The Dynamics of Collective Memory, Transaction Publishers, New Brunswick, New Jersey, pp 13-14.

Excerpts from Journal of a Residence on a Georgian Plantation in 1838-1839, by Frances Anne Kemble, published in 1984 by the University of Georgia Press, Athens, Georgia.

“In the 1830s, Kemble, an English stage actress, married a wealthy Philadelphian, Pierce Butler, who also happened to be a prominent slave owner in Georgia. Kemble was stridently against slavery, but at the time of the marriage neither partner seemed to have been aware of the other’s traditions and beliefs.  This journal was written during a four month visit to Butler’s rice plantation in the sea islands of Georgia.  During her visit, Kemble recorded her shocked reactions to the appalling working conditions of the island’s slaves.  Just before the Civil War, long since divorced from Butler, she agreed to publish the journal.  While the writing remains one of the most damming observations of slavery, Kemble also conveyed the beauty of the coastal Georgian landscape in the early 19th century.”

Toward sunset I went on the river to take my rowing lesson.  A darling little canoe, which carries two oars and a steersman, and rejoices in the appropriate title of the Dolphin, is my especial vessel; and with Jack’s help and instructions, I contrived this evening to row upward of half a mile, coasting the reed-crowned edge of the island to another very large rice mill, the enormous wheel of which is turned by the tide.  A small bank of mud and sand, covered with reedy coarse grass, divides the river into two arms on this side of the island; the deep channel is on the outside of this bank, and as we rowed home this evening, the tide having fallen, we scraped sand almost the whole way.  Mr. [Butler]’s domain, it seems to me, will presently fill up this shallow stream, and join itself to the above-mentioned mud bank.  The whole course of this most noble river is full of shoals, banks, mud and sand bars, and the navigation, which is difficult to those who know it well, is utterly baffling to the inexperienced.  The fact is, that the two elements are so fused hereabouts that there are hardly such things as earth and water proper; that which styles itself  the former is a fat, muddy, slimy sponge, that, floating half under the turbid river, looks yet saturated with the thick waves which every now and then reclaim their late dominion, and cover it almost entirely; the water, again, cloudy and yellow, like pea soup, seems but a solution of such islands, rolling turbid and thick with alluvium, which it both gathers and deposits as it sweeps  along with a swollen, smooth rapidity, that almost deceives the eye.  Amphibious creatures, alligators, serpents, and wild fowl haunt these yet but half-formed regions, where land and water are of the consistency of hasty pudding –  the one seeming too unstable to walk on, the other almost too thick to float in.  But then the sky – if no human chisel ever yet cut breath, neither did any human pen ever write light; if it did, mine should spread out before you the unspeakable glories of these Southern heavens, the saffron brightness of morning, the blue intense brilliancy of noon, the golden splendor and rosy softness of sunset.

Image: Landscape

Frances Anne Kemble, Journal of a Residence on a Georgian Plantation in 1838-1839, University of Georgia Press, Athens, 1984, pp. 86-87.

By Jessica Renee Smith