by Grace Bryan
by Grace Bryan
Fifteen Dollars, 2019
Artist's book (108 pages)
The present work was created in 2019, following the artist's trip to the Gettysburg farm of her ancestor Abraham, a free black farmer at the time of the Civil War.
About her visit, Bryan has written, "I felt pressured to connect to and reclaim the site of my ancestor’s success and tragedy. Yet, as I stood on the fabled land, I felt more like an investigator than a genealogist or artist, knocking on locals’ doors and shuffling the stack of archives at the park library."
Interweaving Grace’s photographs, archival research, and personal writing related to her Gettysburg visit, Fifteen Dollars contrasts the longing to connect to family history with the odd mixture of pathos and the mundane that characterize visits to historical sites.
The work also highlights the mystery that shrouds this mostly overlooked narrative of black experience in America and the efforts over the years, to mixed success, to preserve the farm and the memory of its owner. The book takes its title from the $15 paid by the federal government to Abraham for major damage done to the farm during the Battle of Gettysburg (the amount of his claim: $1,028).
The artist book that follows reflects the ambiguity that Bryan felt about her visit, contrasting fragments of historical evidence about the farm with her own photographs and text capturing the physical experience of being there: "The heat beaming off the grass, the gentle breeze, the light dancing through the tree branches, and the overwhelming space taken up by the absence of my connection."