Works related to the collaborative effort between Longwood University and the Moton Museum to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the Prince Edward County Free Schools will be on exhibit April 10-26 at the j fergeson gallery in Farmville.
One item on display will be a limited-edition artist book featuring the stories of students affected by the closing of the Prince Edward County schools from 1959-64. Some of these students attended the Free Schools, which operated in 1963-64. Titled Unbound, the book is being created by two book artists, Longwood art faculty member Kerri Cushman and visiting artist Jessica Peterson, and a group of Longwood students.
A limited number of copies of Unbound, as well as one-sheet broadsides,will be available for sale at the gallery. Proceeds will benefit the Moton Museum, the university’s partner in the project, and Short Twig Press, a fine art press at Longwood. The Moton Museum is located in a building that housed one of the Free Schools.
Also part of the exhibit, which opens with a reception from 5-8 p.m. April 10, will be ceramic sculptures created by Longwood resident artist Jessica Kanaley. "These sculptures generated in reaction to hearing the firsthand accounts of some of the more than 1,700 Free Schools students," she said. The imagery on the sculptures includes quotes, newspaper clips and teacher reviews from 1959-64.
Unbound is letterpress-printed on paper made by hand by a wide spectrum of community members, including former students of the Free Schools. The 100 limited-edition copies of Unbound will be sold by Longwood and the Moton Museum, where the book will be unveiled in an event April 7.
"The book is a history of that period from the student perspective," said visiting artist Jessica Peterson, a letterpress printing specialist who lives in Tuscaloosa, Ala. "Much of my work deals with race, civil rights and the American narrative, and the story of Moton and the Free Schools is an interesting and overlooked American story."
Peterson, an adjunct instructor in the University of Alabama’s book art program and co-owner of Southern Letterpress, has been working on the project with Kerri Cushman, associate professor of art at Longwood, and with students in the class they are teaching jointly this spring. Larissa Fergeson, professor of history, and Justin Reid, associate director of the Moton Museum, are consultants on the project.
"We’re doing this project to give these former students a voice and an opportunity to tell their story," said Cushman, a papermaking specialist. "This is something that can be passed on to future generations and is one way in which we’re building a sense of community. We’re bridging the gap between the campus and the town."
The project is supported by Longwood’s art and history departments, the Cook-Cole College of Arts and Sciences and the Cormier Honors College, as well as through grants from the American Democracy Project and the Longwood Parents Council.
About 1,500 Prince Edward County students, nearly all of them black, attended the Free Schools, which met in four public school buildings leased by the Prince Edward Free School Association. Supported by federal officials (Attorney General Robert Kennedy visited Farmville in May 1964 to observe the Free Schools) and private funds, the effort was governed by a board of trustees chaired by prominent Virginian Colgate Darden.
The j fergeson gallery is located at 311 N. Main Street in Farmville. For more information, go to http://www.jfergesongallery.com/.
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