In the tiny Zora Neale Hurston Museum of Fine Arts in Eatonville is a poignant and moving exhibit titled The Journey Projects: Eatonville, work created last year by Atlanta artist Lynn Marshall-Linnemeier. In Marshall-Linnemeier's ongoing Journey Projects series, which has traveled to many towns, the personal and private memories of residents are embodied in traditional robes, and the handiwork of children becomes celebration banners. Marshall-Linnemeier's Journey Projects came to Eatonville last year, when she served as the museum's Artist-in-Residence. Hurston's spirit lives in her vibrant, story-rich installation.
"Florida has its own unique way of turning lemons into lemonade," Marshall-Linnemeier tells us in an interview. Eatonville was incorporated as America's first African-American town, but nobody ever said this made life easy for the black citizens living here. Marshall-Linnemeier spent three months in the Hurston Residence, and she says she felt "Zora's kindred spirit of investigation into spiritualism, mysticism and storytelling as an alternative to traditional Western paradigms."
For this exhibition, Marshall-Linnemeier created robes in the African Yoruba tradition, stitching into each the personal and private memories of key people in the community. The robes aren't numbered or named, but are instead presented as a collective result of her time here. Each robe in the Hurston Museum has a vibrant energy that shimmers with power. Photographs, newspaper articles and other memorabilia are printed onto textiles and sewn into these robes.
In the Ifa tradition, they are meant to be worn by the descendants. A sense of the spirit and pride of the participants shines as strong as the bright yellows, reds and purples of the fabrics. "Eatonville's First Fire Truck, 1955" jumps out of one robe. "The City of Five Lakes, Three Croquet Courts, 300 Brown Skins and 300 Good Swimmers" shines from another. The faces and names on the robes flow into a pantheon of this community, bringing ancestors and founders out of memory boxes and albums into a new kinship within the museum.
The effect is intensified with criss-crossed banners created by children in a local STEAM project. Leaves and other objects were placed over light-sensitive fabric, where they formed fascinating imprints, woven into the banners. This work raises the eye to the ceiling, contrasting the ancestors' faces with the work of Eatonville's future generation.
Motifs of branches, flowers, peacock feathers and geometric patterns relate specifically to Eatonville. "While living there," Marshall-Linnemeier says, "I went to church, visited with kids, jogged and quite frankly just made myself at home." She fell in love with the people and their gardens, and the robes reflect what she saw.
The triumph and sacrifice of ancestors' hard work, made tangible in these robes, elevates their memories to a sacred plane. Marshall-Linnemeier's artwork is the part of the process the viewer can see, with the other part being the privilege of wearing one of the robes and integrating oneself with these memories. It is difficult to say whether she acts more as an artist or as an anthropologist. Either way, like Hurston, she has enabled this unique community to pass its own story along, and created a gorgeous collection of visually powerful cloaks as well.