Stronger than one building

The Artdog Image(s) of Interest 

Shotgun, Third Ward #1, 1966, by John T. Biggers.


John T. Biggers painted this image, Shotgun, Third Ward #1, in 1966–yet to me it hauntingly resonates with recent headlines.

Likely inspired by a rash of arsons in black churches during the early-to-mid-1960s, Biggers chose to focus on the community, rather than the sensationalism of the fire.

Then as now, the church is more than just a building, although churches were a central gathering place for the African American community during the Civil Rights era. Thus, attacks on black churches were attacks on civil rights activism, as well.

The word Shotgun in the title refers to the houses, not the weapon–and not, as popularly alleged, because a fired shell would travel through from one end to the other. Indeed, the African word “shogon,” which means “house of God,” is more likely the origin of the term (bringing us full-circle back to the church).

Shotguns, 1987, by John T. Biggers

The narrow, rectangular design, in which several rooms in a row open directly into one another (with no hallway) was popular for several decades, especially in the South. By the 1960s, however, “Shotgun houses” were associated with poor people, especially impoverished African Americans. Biggers returned to the image of the shotgun house for his iconic 1987 painting Shotguns

IMAGES: Many thanks to the Smithsonian American Art Museum, for the image of Shotgun, Third Ward #1, and to the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA) blog, for the image of Shotguns. I deeply appreciate both.

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jansgephardt

Kansas City-based Jan S. Gephardt is a writer, artist, and teacher. She makes nationally-recognized paper sculpture and writes sf mystery novels about a sapient police dog.

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