On Wednesday, March 6, the selection committee for the Commemorative to the Enslaved People of Southern Maryland met to discuss the design proposals from the three final candidates. In February, the candidates visited St. Mary’s College of Maryland to propose their designs for the site in Cole Cinema. The presentations were open to the college community, who were then encouraged to give feedback on the designs online.
Candidates were selected by the company Codex, which connects artists and sculptors to potential commissions. The administration worked with Codex to create a set of standards for all candidates, who were narrowed down based on whether or not they had suitable credentials to take on a project of this size, according to Professor of Art and member of the Selection Committee Lisa Scheer.
The committee reviewed 27 entries which were found to be sufficient based on their past commissions and a letter of interest. Candidates were interviewed by the committee until finalists were selected to travel to the College and learn more about the project before creating their design proposals.
118 people gave feedback on the presentations in the online poll, according to Scheer, and their comments were surprisingly consistent. The community comments were “on the table” while the committee discussed the presentations, and they lead to the unanimous decision to select RE:site. The community feedback has been released to the public, and can be found on the College’s website.
The design by RE:site, as presented by Norman Lee, can be viewed online on the College’s website. A video of the presentation is also posted on Youtube. The design echoes the “ghost houses” of Historic St. Mary’s City, with its simple structure. Unlike the ghost frames in HSMC, this structure is unable to be entered, to remind viewers that we cannot know and are not meant to know what happened in the slave quarters. The walls of the house will be mirror-polished stainless steel with words engraved from documents written by Slaveholders of Southern Maryland, with clapboards redacting words to create an erasure poem, written by Quenton Baker. At night, the design will light up from the inside, casting the words onto the field around the house.
The selection committee was especially impressed with RE:site’s design and the deep thought and care their design showed, according to Scheer, who added that “they thought that this issue was not just a historic thing, it’s an ongoing thing, and it has as much to do with the way contemporary communities understand and consider it, and the RE:site design was utterly most effective in that way.”
Following the decision, RE:site was notified that they had won the commission. Artists Shane Allbritton and Norman Lee of RE:site, along with project partner Quenton Baker, stated that “As artists, we are humbled by St. Mary’s charge to create a memorial honoring the enslaved people who once lived, loved, worked, and resisted on the college grounds.”
Consistent with the statements made by Scheer about why RE:site was selected, the group also stated in their acceptance that “The past is never dead, and history never leaves us. It is a privilege to be working on a project that attends to those the world has tried to forget, to erase, to bury beneath silence. We owe them our care and our attention and are honored to give all that we have. It is our hope that this work will make the invisible visible and invite deep reflection on our future as a community.”