“Promise and Purpose, the Ancestor’s Dream” was informed by multiple visits over the last twenty years to Lowndes County, Alabama (where my partner’s parents live) and my conflicted feelings experiencing the flora and fauna of their land while also considering the violent history of Lowndes as a mixed-race (Black and white) individual. The title of the work is a line from Marilyn Nelson’s poem “Arachis Hypogaea” about George Washington Carver. Carver’s work in Alabama at Tuskegee is referenced in the drawing—the plant and bulbous forms partially obscured in the bottom right corner are sweet potatoes which he did much research about in the 1930s.
Kirsten Furlong explores mark-making to understand and study natural patterns, letting her hand take her through the drawing. An elegant silhouette of the wood stork and a snake surround the stout sweet potato. At once appearing like a dance between the two species or a threatening play between predator and prey, both their touches create an interconnectedness to the entire composition of patterns broken into prismatic lines. From the snake’s mouth, what begins as its forked tongue becomes plant-like, and continues onward as if depositing spawn. From the stork’s feet, the delicate papery lines of mushroom gills seem to grow outward. Other marks are reminiscent of tree rings, scales, and veins. Promise and Purpose, the Ancestor’s Dream is Furlong’s wide rumination of processing a place like “bloody Lowndes,” a stronghold of white supremacy; taking in the wonder of Alabama’s biodiversity; offering reverence for George Washington Carver for his infinite curiosity and dedicated career; and of the very place connected to love. Furlong’s work speaks to the bounty of this land, of harvest, as well as our tangled history connecting us all.
—Grace Kook-Anderson, The Arlene and Harold Schnitzer Curator of Northwest Art
Kirsten Furlong (American, born 1969). Promise and Purpose, the Ancestor’s Dream, 2014. Collage, ink, graphite, and colored pencil on paper. Museum Purchase: Funds provided by the Northwest Art Council, 2016.63.1 © Kirsten Furlong