WILLIAMSBURG — The installation of a symbolic vessel that will hold the fire central to William & Mary’s Hearth: Memorial to the Enslaved, which was scheduled to be dedicated at a public ceremony on April 1 but postponed due to weather, has been rescheduled to May 4 at 5:30 p.m.
The vessel will be illuminated at community events and ceremonial occasions throughout the year in recognition of people whom the university enslaved over the course of 172 years, according to the university.
“We have always imagined the Hearth with a cleansing and renewing fire, and with the installation of the vessel, that fire can be realized for special occasions,” said Jody Allen, assistant professor of history and Robert Francis Engs Director of The Lemon Project. “We can now experience the fullness of Hearth: Memorial to the Enslaved.”
The vessel is based on a concept conceived by the university community, designed by Baskervill architectural firm in Richmond and created by Richmond artist Charlie Ponticello.
“The culmination of this important building project is a dream come true,” said Chief Diversity Officer Chon Glover, who led the design selection process. “Every detail throughout this journey has been crafted with intentionality. Hearth honors those individuals who built and maintained this university for years and were invisible until the work of the Lemon Project began.
“For all time coming, we will tell our full and robust history as we share Hearth with our community and visitors to campus. It truly embodies the perseverance and faith of the individuals who are hidden no more.”
Ideas for the vessel design were solicited when students in the new sculpture course Ceremonial Vessel Project organized workshops and entries for a campus-wide competition in fall 2021, the university said. The design chosen is based on the proposal submitted by Neil Norman, associate professor of anthropology, and his wife, daughter and son.
“I try to think through how people who were forcibly removed from West Africa would recreate life for themselves over here,” Norman said. “What African styles, rhythms, aesthetics might be employed in the New World and how those connections work themselves out. The background for my entry was my 20 years of work in, particularly Benin, West Africa.”
He modeled his entry on a type of West African vessel called adajalazin in the Gbe language, and known as the unity vessel in Benin, that is still used today and of which archaeological examples have been found dating back to the 16th century. These ceramic containers with small perforations were used in domestic settings for cooking, in religious rituals and as a powerful symbol for the reigns of kings, according to Norman.