Still: Cumberland Gap
(an in-progress public art project)
November 20th, 2020 Press Release:
Exciting things are coming to Cumberland Gap thanks to a successful collaboration between the town and local artist Caroline Hatfield. The partnership was facilitated by a newly formed non-profit, Guardians of the Gap. The organization aims to help protect cultural and natural resources, preserve the history and spirit of the town, and promote movement and tourism.
The project concept, Still: Cumberland Gap, is a cross-sector public art project funded by South Arts Organization with support from the National Endowment for the Arts. This cross-sector impact grant will allow the project team to create an engaging, thoughtful, and relevant artistic experience that calls folks back to remember and learn about where they are. The final product of this project will be a multi-stop tour through the town of Cumberland Gap that allows participants to move between different important sites. Each site will host a sculptural memory touchstone that serves as an entry point to reading, listening, and learning more about the lived experience of the historic town.
Rather than referring to this as a walking tour, the team calls it a moving tour to be more inclusive in imagining the ways people might move from site to site. “We want everyone to be able to participate in this experience and have chosen our sites to align with that mission,” they say.
The artist, Caroline Hatfield, brings a deeply rooted sense of place to the project. Her orientation toward landscape, story, and metamorphosis brings a valuable offering. The artistic component of this project will focus on the material narrative of the town and how that story parallels the lives lived there. As someone raised here, the creeks, mountains, and ridges around Cumberland Gap formed Hatfield’s earliest concepts of horizon, landscape, and geography. In her work on this project, Hatfield will reach backward and forward through time, visually, materially, and conceptually, in order to understand the natural and human history that brought us to our present moment as a community.
The project team is calling for the community to help them gather and collect stories, images, documents, and other materials to establish the archive necessary for the project. The team plans to record multigenerational stories about Cumberland Gap and the surrounding area. If you have a personal or family story about Cumberland Gap, please email the team at GuardiansOfTheGap@gmail.com.
The sculptural monuments of this project punctuate the complex narrative and history of the town of Cumberland Gap. Each provides a moment of stillness and pause to reflect and engage with a timeline that stretches back many years; to ancient geological phenomena, migrating bison, Native American hunters, and later colonial settlers. Today, the mountain pass is protected as a national park, yet the town continues to persevere. With slow, steady breaths of waning industry and increasing tourism, there is a strong collaborative connection between the landscape and the residents, past and present. Cumberland Gap is still, imbued with history and memories, as well as still living and flowing, just as the eternal waters of the Gap Creek run through town.
The design for the touchstones reference the geomorphological history of the area. A circular metal base, with concentric metal forms rising vertically, alludes to the nearby meteorite crater - the catalyst which made the mountain pass possible. Each variation of the monument features a large stone, sourced from local quarries, that anchors the vertical metal forms. The two materials intersect physically, and their relationship as natural resources has informed much of the area’s history; rock quarrying and iron industry. Extending from the stone, the metal reaches out and upward mimicking the rock’s edges or the mountain ridgelines. As the metal curves into a loop, the edges soften and transform into a more fluid outline, speaking to the waters that carved out the gap so long ago. Cyclical and transformative, the monuments contain similar aspects as the town.
Arriving at the sites along the movement tour, the participant encounters variations of this core design, each featuring a unique stone and varying dimensions. The works are meant to complement the site, weaving together the narrative and unifying a breadth of historical and contemporary moments. The tour is in no way comprehensive, but it is holistic. Bringing participants to a variety of public spaces, historical sites, and natural features leaves a spirited impression of Cumberland Gap; one that moves beyond the taglines boasting Daniel Boone’s journey and, instead, looks at the multiplicity of journeys through and within “the gap”.