Last week, we shared with you an interview with one of the three West Park Arts Fest (WPAF) artists, Jesse Harrod. This week, we catch up with Ruth Scott Blackson. For the festival this Saturday, June 9th from 12-5pm, Blackson will be creating an environment inspired by the 1876 Centennial Exposition, the first World’s Fair in the United States, that took place in the very location of the West Park Arts Fest.
Theresa Rose: Ruth, what intrigued you most about the history of the Centennial? Can you tell us about your specific research for this project?
Ruth Scott Blackson: Theresa, initially I was so overwhelmed by the history of the Centennial – there is a rich source of information from this time period, the pavilions, the inventions, the exhibitors, the ephemera … I could go on and on. The Centennial was all about the ‘new’ or first of something and this really fascinated me. I had already been working with images of Persian carpets and rugs from the Middle East in my art practice and while looking through archives at Parks and Recreation and The Free Library I came across intriguing images of carpets and rugs that were exhibited. As I researched more it became apparent that the collection of carpets and rugs in the United States first came to prominence as a result of the Centennial in 1876.
Rose: Without giving it all away, can you describe the project that you intend to create for the festival?
Blackson: Yes! In Carpet Cornucopia I’m intending to use carpets and rugs that have been donated to me. The project will be interactive and participatory where the involvement of festival attendees is part of the experience. It will be an opportunity for people to take a moment to relax and rest during the hustle and bustle of the festival.
Courtesy of Free Library of Philadelphia Digital Collection on the Philadelphia Centennial, 1876.
Rose: Could you share a little about your own work and how it relates to this project?
Blackson: Intrinsic to my art process is unpicking the subtleties of the world around us – analyzing these parts – and giving them conceptual weight and substance that makes reference to a history that at once becomes transformative and poetic in its presentation. I often work best when looking at the history of a space/ object/ entity. When presented with the history of the Centennial I was at once fascinated and excited by the possibilities of diving into this vast history, and weaving connections between the past and the present.
Rose: What can we expect next? What are your next projects and/or upcoming exhibitions?
Blackson: During my Centennial research I came across a fascinating image that I would like to explore further. As well as working as an artist I am a bookbinder and book restorer and discovered an image titled ‘Blank Books’. It showed piles and piles of just that – ‘blank books’ in a beautiful display case. This image immediately sparked some ideas for a future artwork, but that’s all I want to say for now.
West Park Arts Fest takes place on Saturday, June 9 from 12 to 5 pm in West Fairmount Park. To learn more about the festival, please click here.