A Mightier Work is Ahead

10 altered pieces from the Jackson and Lee: Legends in Gray collection of commemorative plates

Hand cut found porcelain, dust, glass, cork, gold leaf, and brass

13” x 8” x 1” each

2021

The title is paraphrased after a Frederick Douglass quote from  OUR WORK IS NOT DONE, speech delivered at the annual meeting of the American Anti-Slavery Society held at Philadelphia, December 3-4, 1863.

 

But a mightier work than the abolition of slavery now looms up before the Abolitionist. - When we have taken the chains off the slave, as I believe we shall do, we shall find a harder resistance to the second purpose of this great association than we have found even upon slavery itself.

The Great Enemy of Truth

Installation view Turchin Center for Visual Art
Hand cut set of Confederate commemorative porcelain plates, paper packaging, glass, wood, brass wall mounts
260" H 60" W 5" D
2019

For the great enemy of truth is very often not the lie — deliberate, contrived, and dishonest — but the myth — persistent, persuasive, and unrealistic. -JFK

I have been collecting Confederate commemorative plates since 2016 in response to the rise in white supremacist pride in contemporary culture. I imagine these objects as Trojan horses hanging innocently among family photos. These plates were printed long after the Civil War with romantic illustrations, and created for people to hang in their homes, to pass dangerous values down to future generations aided by collectable marketing.

 

When I stumbled across my first set of plates in a tiny junk shop it felt like a call to action. I immediately envisioned using the porcelain cutting techniques I have mastered to grind out these harmful symbols of oppression.  I edit each plate by extracting the Confederate symbols, leaving only the American landscape between the voids. The dust from each removal is harvested and displayed below its plate of origin to show that history cannot be erased; there is still a residue and the dust remains.

It wasn’t until I began this work that I learned that I have ancestors that fought and died for the Confederacy. Now this work is as much a rejection of systems of oppression as it is a reckoning about my own place in those systems.  Speeches like Douglass' spoken over a century ago illustrate how little has changed and remind us not to settle for symbolic gestures of progress, there is still mighty work ahead.