- Judy Newland
St. Augustine Wrapped in Blue
Escaping the 12-degree cold high in the Rockies, I welcomed the humid warmth of St. Augustine, Florida. Lush green trees with moss hanging in swaths is something I haven’t experienced in years. Bright orange Bird of Paradise blossoms welcomed visitors to Flagler College to experience a world of indigo – perhaps one that most of us don’t know much about.
A wonderful group of textile aficionados gathered in late February to learn more about the history of indigo in the southeast region of the United States. The country grew and processed vast amounts of indigo in the peak years (1740-90) on the backs of Native American and African slave labor.
A variety of talks, panel presentations and discussions were on the agenda. The history of indigo production in Northeast Florida and Ossabaw Island was presented, along with the Textile Collection at the Ruth Funk Center. There were panel discussions of material culture focused on identity and privilege and practices in contemporary art. The full schedule and descriptions can be found on the Flagler College website.
Rowland Rickets gave the keynote address to close the symposium on Saturday afternoon and then a group of 20+ people converged in the Flagler College art studio workshop space to spend a few hours stitching, folding, scrunching, and tying fabric to dip into three different indigo vats. It was a hectic and happy time for new dyers and many with years of experience. I managed the workshop chaos, ably assisted by two Flagler College art students.
The Deeper Than Indigo symposium was organized by Laura Mongiovi and Elizabeth Kozlowski. Laura is on the art faculty at Flagler College in St. Augustine and Elizabeth is an independent curator and editor of Surface Design Journal.
Both worked for more than a year to put together this symposium devoted to bringing to light the history of indigo production in the Southeastern US. Elizabeth curated the exhibition Contemporary Fibers, which opened during the symposium with a large crowd at Tovar House.
A spin off…through contacts made at the symposium I heard about a project in which indigo dyed cloth would wrap 36 former slaves whose graves were disturbed during construction in 2013. I dyed a large piece of cloth that was a muslin pattern I had planned to use to make a chasuble for my son – it seemed a fitting fabric to use for wrapping. The individuals were reburied with grace and dignity in a final resting place with indigo cloth shrouding the caskets.