Archaeology and Documentary Art at Davis Bottom

Why Documentary Art?

Documentary art is created to represent lifestyles or events of the past, provoke lively discussions, and generate questions. Teaching Through Documentary Art: Lessons for Elementary and Middle School Social Studies Teachers (http://arch.as.uky.edu/) is an on-line resource of innovative lessons linked to documentary art: two murals featured in the award-winning documentary Davis Bottom, Rare History, Valuable Lives.

Developed with Kentucky teachers in mind, Teaching Through Documentary Art provides instructors with diverse approaches to engage their students in social studies content while at the same time, strengthening their visual, literacy, and analytical thinking skills. People interested in Kentucky history also will enjoy reading the essays and learning more about the murals.

 

Why Learn About Davis Bottom?

Davis Bottom in Lexington, Kentucky (see the September 14th blog), was one of Fayette County’s most impoverished neighborhoods. It also was one of Lexington’s first integrated communities after the Civil War. Despite economic hardships, residents made the tight-knit enclave a safe, strong, and racially diverse community for almost one hundred and fifty years. After decades of political and legal battles, in 2010, construction of the Newtown Pike Extension through the heart of the Davis Bottom neighborhood, and the neighborhood redevelopment that accompanied it, has transformed Davis Bottom’s dilapidated dwellings and industrial buildings into Davis Park.

To reduce the impact of road construction and neighborhood redevelopment, residents, community leaders, and government officials developed several programs designed to retain “community cohesion.” This included the purchase of temporary homes (mobile homes on-site) – while the City built new houses, apartments, and townhouses – and the creation of the Lexington Community Land Trust, a neighborhood organization entrusted with keeping housing affordable in the new neighborhood by protecting land values from market forces.

Scholars also worked with residents to preserve the history of Davis Bottom. The creation of the Davis Bottom History Preservation Project’s website (https://anthropology.as.uky.edu/kas/kas-projects/davis-bottom-project), production of an hour-long documentary, and the development of educational resources (Teaching Through Documentary Art and Investigating a Shotgun House, a case study in Project Archaeology’s Investigating Shelter curriculum (https://projectarchaeology.org) – was an important part of their work.

 

About These Lessons

The curriculum materials in Teaching Through Documentary Art are linked to two documentary murals created by Susan A. Walton to fill visual voids in the documentary film. Walton’s artwork draws from primary source archival and historic documents research: published historic sources, original historic research, archival photographs, period documents, contemporary photographs, and contemporary oral histories. Both murals visually document the progression of civil rights in Kentucky in the aftermath of the Civil War.

Davis Bottom in the 1890s creates a portrait of a working-class neighborhood in Lexington, Kentucky at the turn of the last century. Six lesson sets, targeting upper elementary school students (grades 4-5), are linked to this mural. The lessons explore aspects of daily life in Davis Bottom, how shotgun houses are built, aspects of children’s lives, and the life of Isacc Scott Hathaway, one of the most influential African American sculptors of the 20th century, who grew up in Davis Bottom. These lessons are designed to be used separately or as cross-curricular extensions that complement Investigating a Shotgun House. They provide options for additional discussion, writing projects, and oral history research activities.

Civil Rights in Lexington – 4th of July 1867 recreates the scene of one of Kentucky’s largest civil rights events. William “Willard” Davis, the man responsible for establishing Davis Bottom as an integrated community, was among the speakers that day. Learning about this event helps students understand the situation of newly freed African Americans after the Civil War and the beginnings of their long struggle for civil rights. Five lesson sets targeting middle school students (grades 6-8) are linked to this mural. These lessons focus on the USCT (United States Colored Troops) and Civil War veterans, explore music of the Civil War, and consider Davis’ speech at the1867 event, in which he spoke strongly in favor of civil rights and equality, and against Kentucky state laws that denied African Americans their rights.

Each set consists of a short background essay, standards-based discussion questions, a list of achieved standards, and suggestions for teaching and activities. To access the lesson sets, teachers use their mouse to roll over the paintings to access vignettes – small illustrations – that are part of the larger painting, or go to them directly.

 

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  1. Davis bottom mural

Davis Bottom in the 1890s, creates a portrait of Davis Bottom at the turn of the last century. Davis Bottom, a working class neighborhood in Lexington, Kentucky, was one of the city’s first integrated neighborhoods. Artist’s drawing of what Davis Bottom might have looked like in the 1890s. Original artwork by Susan A. Walton (http://sawaltonstudio.50megs.com/). Photograph courtesy Kentucky Archaeological Survey/Kentucky Heritage Council, Lexington/Frankfort.

Civil Rights in Lexington - lg

  1. 4th of july celebration mural

Civil Rights in Lexington – 4th of July 1867, recreates the scene of one of Kentucky’s largest civil rights events, held on July 4, 1867, just outside Lexington. Its link to Davis Bottom? William “Willard” Davis, the man responsible for establishing Davis Bottom as an integrated community, was among the speakers that day. Original artwork by Susan A. Walton (http://sawaltonstudio.50megs.com/). Photograph courtesy Kentucky Archaeological Survey/Kentucky Heritage Council, Lexington/Frankfort.

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  1. davis bottom mural vignette – attending a fish fry

Attending a Fish Fry, a vignette from Davis Bottom in the 1890s, linked to a Teaching Through Documentary Art lesson set. Attending a Fish Fry focuses on community traditions and includes directions for a self-contained special writing project that guides students in exploring their own community’s traditions and writing about them.

Original artwork by Susan A. Walton (http://sawaltonstudio.50megs.com/). Photograph courtesy Kentucky Archaeological Survey/Kentucky Heritage Council, Lexington/Frankfort.

 

A blog by

Gwynn Henderson

Education Coordinator

Kentucky Archaeological Survey

August 30, 2017

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