The design for the Children's Fountain, 2 large mosaic splashpools, was inspired by a Mississippi pond, a place rich with all kinds of life, including frogs and turtles, snakes and alligators. Life is busy in a Mississippi pond, with no end of surprises, and hopefully these splash pools will bring surprise and delight to their visitors.
The theme of my mural for the new McWillie School is Motion and Wonder. The school itself is a work of art and of love, a result of collaborative efforts on the part of many diverse members of the community. Their common desire was to provide the children with an environment that would open doors onto a beautiful world of learning and delight. I wanted my mural -- consisting of eight colorful paintings on stainless steel panels, and depicting children running through those doors -- to reflect the joy and wonder of learning which the new McWillie School promises to provide.
The Mill Street Viaduct Improvement Project consists of 2 viaducts and a pedestrian market area, three different areas with three different themes. The artwork, multiple panels of fired porcelain enamel on steel, are placed in openings at the tops of the brick columns supporting the viaducts.
Pearl Street leads to Jackson State University, a historically black university which has played a vital role in Jackson's social evolution. I wanted to reference the rich cultural history of the African-American community with images inspired by the Underground Railroad and one of its most courageous conductors, Harriet Tubman. Imagery also refers to the coded freedom song, Follow the Drinking Gourd. The drinking gourd was the Big Dipper, whose handle pointed to the North Star, and the way to freedom.Pedestrian Market Area: Working on the Railroad
Three workers are featured in this area. While the conductor on the south wall of the clock tower checks his watch, we see 2 sets of the Gandy Dancers who laid track and drove steel to maintain the railroads. Throughout the South the Gandy Dancers, mostly African-American, worked in crews, and used the rhythms of motion and song to lighten their backbreaking labor.
During World War II, many men's jobs on the railroad were open to women for the first time, and they handled the hard work with skill and strength.
The Capitol Street Viaduct includes the clock tower, and the panels here refer to railroad time. Every station has its clock, every train its timetable, and at one time, every conductor had his pocket watch. Railroad travel marked the beginning of standardized time zones, and the association of trains with time is strong and evocative.
In 2001 the city of Vicksburg invited artists to submit designs for the city's first public art project, a 57-foot long mural along the downtown seawall. The seawall was built years ago, after the disastrous floods of 1927, to protect Vicksburg from the high waters of the Mississippi River. Directly behind the wall lie the backwaters of the river, and directly in front lie the railroad tracks and the street which runs north to become Highway 61, the famous Blues Highway. These three important arteries of trade, commerce, and flight -- the river, the railroad, the highway -- have had a tremendous impact on the history of Vicksburg, and I wanted to create a design that would celebrate this rich and varied history.
Centuries ago, Jewish peddlers fleeing persecution in Europe migrated north from New Orleans to settle in the cities and towns springing up along the river's banks. The railroad provided gainful employment to black men as porters at a time when decent jobs were scarce, particularly for African Americans. These men helped form the backbone of the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters, one of the most powerful and effective unions in the country. Finally, Highway 61, which led straight through the cotton fields of the Mississippi Delta to the big cities in the North, became the chosen route of African Americans migrating out of the South in pursuit of a better life.
Times have changed, but river, rail and road activity remain vibrant. I wanted my mural to celebrate the busy, rich diversity of life along the river, from swamplands to catfish farms to pecan groves to cotton fields to casino boats to the harbor project, and to convey something of the dynamic rhythm of life along the Mississippi.