“River Map” contemporary mosaic art
“Three Cent Running Money” River Map mosaic is a culmination of decades of work and thought and collecting.
This mosaic was made for Dr Janet Rafferty of the Cobb Institute of Archaeology at Mississippi State University as a retirement gift from her fellow professor Dr Evan Peacock of the Anthropology Department. Rafferty and Peacock had used a previous mosaic of mine for the cover illustration of the book they co-edited: “Time’s River, Archaeological Syntheses from the Lower Mississippi River Valley.” The mosaic above is the mosaic I would have like to have made for the illustration. It was commissioned at the time the book was published, and took over two years to complete due to interruptions and the time required to get just the right objects.
The mosaic contains some fossils and artifacts I picked up decades ago as a boy as I played by myself behind the levee and other half wild places. Other items were gathered from estate auctions to be used in place of items I wasn’t ready to part with.
When Dr. Peacock commissioned the mosaic, I should have known that it had the potential to become one of the most involved pieces of all my work, at least in terms of materials and personal signicance. After all, it is a “map” of Mississippi’s relatively gentle rivers and all the life and history and sacred magic they contain, and I was making it for Mississippi archaeologist-anthropologists.
Originally I thought that the mosaic would be simplified map of Mississippi’s larger rivers, similar to the mosaic I had once made of Georgia’s rivers, but as I gathered objects and played with them, the thought of making a conventional map began to fade. More powerful images began to emerge in my head, some with meanders, some without. The important point was that it was no longer a map of specific locations. Instead, it became more of a dream-time map built from objects that were small physical references to the geologic and natural heritage of the rivers.
I played with many different configurations, but they all converged on something that suggested the general layout of the southwesterly flowing rivers that define the land in most of Mississippi. However, I couldn’t stop playing with the arrangement until the great river bent inward to the east, just as it does to form the notch in the waist of the state. Only then did it seem to capture the essence of the lay of the land in western Mississippi.
The glyphs are magic pictures that I scratched into pieces of scrap marble. Each refers in some way to the experiences I had wandering around by myself as a boy.
A short slideshow shows some of the details of the River Map mosaic.