Syd Carpenter honors the legacy of African horticulture in new solo exhibition at Rowan University Art Gallery

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Syd Carpenter honors the legacy of African horticulture in new solo exhibition at Rowan University Art Gallery
Syd Carpenter, Indiana Hutson, 2021, 11 x 24 x 23 inches, Stoneware. Image courtesy of the artist.

GLASSBORO, NJ.- Rowan University Art Gallery is presenting Earth Offerings: Honoring the Gardeners, a new solo exhibition of Syd Carpenter’s ceramic sculptures. The exhibition debuts January 24, 2022, with an opening reception and artist talk on February 3, from 5-7 pm.

Through her work, Syd Carpenter identifies and honors the legacy of African American farmers and gardeners. In her new series Farm Bowls, each sculpture draws inspiration from architectural and organic forms Carpenter observed on African American farms visited during a road trip through southern states. As she explains, “in creating the farm bowl series, I considered what is evocative about the shape of a bowl and how I could use this shape as an emblem for African Americans on the land. The handmade bowl is a universal form with equivalent examples represented in every culture. It is an open round form with an inner recessed chamber rising from a smaller foot to a wider rim. A bowl may rest comfortably in the palm of a hand or extend expansively to receive volumes. Bowls can serve ritualistically or as mundane utilitarian objects. In whichever use, the bowl presents its contents accessibly as an ideal form for representing African American experiences and connection to the land.”

In each farm bowl, Carpenter features site-specific details she observed during her trip—farm animals, tools, eggs, barns, and fences populate the rims and inner recesses of the bowls while the color personifies the land and the skin tone of the farmers and gardeners that she visited in the South. Her works act as a collage of experiences, paying tribute to African horticulture practices and their impact on the legacy of agriculture, farming, and gardening.

Additionally on view are Carpenter’s Mother Pin series, along with her Ramshackle Fence installation. Inspired by her mother, Ernestine Carpenter, the Mother Pins resemble an idealized female form with their graceful, upright, curvilinear shape. With proportions akin to those of the human body, the pins become simultaneously mythical and familiar. Their placement in different environments, such as swirling water or decorated with beans or plant forms, alludes to their distinct identities.

Syd Carpenter has exhibited her work extensively throughout the region and nationally. Her work is included in the collections of Metropolitan Museum of Art, Philadelphia Museum of Art, Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, Tang Museum of Art at Skidmore College, Montreal Museum of Art, Petrucci Family Collection of African American Art, Renwick Gallery of The Smithsonian American Art Museum, Jingdezhen Ceramic Institute, Jingdezhen, China, and many others. Carpenter earned her B.F.A. and M.F.A. from the Tyler School of Art at Temple University, and she is currently Professor of Art, Peggy Chan Professorship in Black Studies at Swarthmore College, PA.

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