The University of Michigan Matthaei Botanical Gardens and Nichols Arboretum
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Press Release - 12/20/2012

Places for the Spirit
Traditional African American Gardens

Pearl Fryer's Garden, Bishopville, North Carolina, 2002

January 18–March 10, 2013
Matthaei Botanical Gardens, 1800 N. Dixboro Rd.,
Ann Arbor, MI 48105

Free admission; open daily 10 am-4:30 pm;
Wednesday until 8 pm
Free public lectures January 29, 2 & 7 pm. Register online at or call 734.647.7600.

Experience an exhibit of black-and-white fine-art photographs of African American folk gardens and their creators. Author Vaughn Sills, an assistant professor of photography at Simmons College in Boston, traveled throughout Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, Georgia, South Carolina, and North Carolina in search of these evocative gardens, and her photographs capture a disappearing element of the American landscape.

Vaughn Sills writes: “In my search for gardens I drove through small towns and cities and along country roads, stopping when I saw a certain kind of beauty. As I look at my photographs now and try to define what compelled me, I see a sense of both order and mystery, with a visual and soul-satisfying contrast between open space and dense arrangements of plant life. In many of the gardens I was drawn to the myriad objects placed to reflect light, to create structure, to delight and, it seemed, to entertain. I soon learned that all of this beauty was far more than entertainment, for beyond that there was meaning of the greatest import.

“These gardens hold a place for spirits: the gardeners provide the means to communicate with ancestors, fend off harm, and offer security to those who enter.”

Matthaei Botanical Gardens is hosting two free public lectures by Vaughn Sills on January 29. The topic of the lectures is “The Roots of Trust.” For artists working across cultural boundaries, establishing mutual respect and building trust in the artistic project are essential. Professor Sills will lead a series of conversations and informal gallery walks focused on “The Roots of Trust” for this nationally significant exhibit. Limited seating available; reserve your place today online.

The exhibit is being held in conjunction with the U-M College of Literature, Science & the Arts winter 2013 theme semester, “Understanding Race,” which encourages exploration of the intersection of race and other identities.

Sponsored by University of Michigan College of Engineering and University of Michigan Matthaei Botanical Gardens & Nichols Arboretum.

All photographs copyright Vaughn Sills.

Pearl Fryer's Garden,
Bishopville, North Carolina 2010

Vaughn Sills

Pearl Fryer's Garden,
Bishopville, North Carolina 2010

Louise Daniel's garden and house,
Greenville, North Carolina, 2005

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