Sydney Carpenter (b. 1953), Ella Mae Edwards, 2009. Ceramic, acrylic, graphite, wood. 24 x 20 x 6 inches. Michener Art Museum. Gift of the Artist.

A ceramicist and professor at Swarthmore College, Syd Carpenter investigates issues of race, identity, environment, and the cultivation and ownership of land through sculpted portraits of African American gardens and farms. Using Richard Westmacott’s 1992 anthropological study, African American Gardens and Yards in the Rural South, as a guide, Carpenter identified and visited several farms in 2012, inspiring ten free-standing clay and steel sculptures. Each of these works are named for the farm proprietors in order to assert and honor their individuality in the face of historical erasure. Land ownership in the American South was highly contested after the Civil War, as free blacks claimed parcels given to them by the U.S. government and farmed deserted plantations. Carpenter, an avid gardener, has a deep personal connection to the cultivation of land that stems from her ancestor’s roots in Atlanta, Georgia to her grandmother’s enormous vegetable garden in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, which drew curious visitors from miles away. Combining botanical imagery and vernacular forms like clothes pins, tools and wheels, Carpenter’s sculptures offer a provocative statement of creativity and resilience. This is the first solo exhibition of Carpenter’s work at the Michener Art Museum.