I have always loved shacks. Something about the wood. The falling apart and still standing. The South (that includes “developing” countries closer to the equator). So when I saw this little red shack in the window of the University of Alabama’s Paul R. Jones Museum this past Sunday, I knew I had to return to see the exhibit to which it was connected.
These pieces of sculpture and the drawings that accompany them were made by the late Beverly Buchanan. The art is a loan from Spelman College.
Buchanan made a shack in honor of the novelist-essayist-poet Alice Walker and Walker wrote a poem for Buchanan.
The poem evoked memories of growing up in Miami‘s Coconut Grove, the first five years of my life. There were many shotgun houses in this community that I have mentioned a lot on this blog.
Some were made of wood. This was true of the Sugar Shack, the three story boarding house my great grandmother managed. It was located on Grand Avenue. I can still see myself sitting on the screened in veranda looking at the buses, cars and people passing by. Years later, and after my immediate family had moved about 20 or so miles north to Carol City (now the City of Miami Gardens), we returned to the Grove a lot. By then, my maternal grandparents had moved from “The Projects” in the Grove (where we once lived) to a nearby duplex. It, too, had a door through which you could point a shotgun and aim straight through three rooms to the backdoor (hence, the name shotgun house).
Home. These words are charged with a past filled with trials and triumph.
My great grandmother had by then moved to subsidized senior housing not far from the boarding house, which was demolished owing to termite damage.
Oh, the stories in that boarding house. The food, too. Same was true for the shotgun house in which my grandparents, natives of Mississippi, lived mere steps from the block on which my Bahamian ancestors lived.
Buchanan’s work took me takes me back to those streets, those dwellings, those memories. The memories include the hands of my grandpa, a carpenter. He once made my mother an entertainment center.
Wooden structures and our charged past will figure into the “Space Matters” installation a colleague and I will set up in UA’s Gorgas House. More to come.