An Adirondack artist’s response to BLM: art as a memorial

Ren Davidson Seward, the artist behind the Memorial Field for Black Lives, walks among the placards at the John Brown Farm near Lake Placid. “This is who we are, “ she says. (Provided photo — Todd Moe)

The Memorial Field for Black Lives has been re-installed at the John Brown Farm State Historic Site near Lake Placid, and it has grown in scope.

This year marks 125 years since the grave, farm, and home of abolitionist John Brown gained state ownership and protection as a historic site.

The memorial’s placards, arranged around a bronze statue of John Brown and an African-American boy, name scores of Black men and women and children killed at the hands of law enforcement or by mobs.

The replica gray headstones include names, settings, and the last moments before each life was taken.

Todd Moe stopped by the farm and memorial last Friday ahead of Juneteenth, and spoke with Saranac Lake artist Ren Davidson Seward about her work. Ren says she installed a couple of placards last summer in memory of Breonna Taylor and George Floyd.

This summer, the field has grown to about a hundred solemn placards that date from the late 19th century to earlier this month. Ren Davidson Seward says the epitaphs present somber truths about how much work remains to be done to fight racial oppression and repair social injustice.

Seward has dedicated this year’s Memorial to Black Lives installation at the historic John Brown Farm to Ida B. Wells, a Black journalist and activist of the late 19th Century. The placards will remain on display through November.


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