In 2007 I inherited a partial interest in a parcel of land in East Palatka on the banks of the St. Johns River through the death of my father, a Florida native. On this parcel was a 2 story “L” cracker house, a barn and a “boat house”. In the house were stacks of documents dating from the 1880’s to the 1960’s pertaining the the business of Brown’s Grove, an orange plantation and personal correspondence of the Hampton family, it’s proprietors.

These documents include Bank Statements, Riverboat Bills of Lading, Accounting docs, business reports to the “Brown Bros. Import of Utica N.Y.” and personal correspondence. It is a fascinating and comprehensive collection. The buildings, no longer exist and the property is no longer owned by my family, but the documents are all in my posession.

I have been trying to put together a narrative about this family and recently had an exhibit at the Karpeles Manuscript Museum in Jacksonville, Florida, in which I displayed many of these documents. The exhibit gained broad interest, primarily from the feature story on the front page of the Florida Times Union.

Some of the documents on display at Th3Rivers Exhibit at the Karpeles Museum 2021

I was fortunate enough to get in contact with Dr. Connie Lester with the History and Florida Archives Department at the University Of Central Florida. She was very interested in archiving the documents as they represent a detailed, comprehensive record of a Black Owned Business during the “Classic Jim Crow Period” in the South, which is not only rare, but unheard of.

Dr. Lester and Dr. Fon Gordon of The African Studies Dept. examined the documents and we began to shape a plan to begin archiving the documents as well as establishing a narrative of the history of the Browns Grove farm.

A detailed study of the data collected from this primary source will be of use in the study of farming techniques, transportation systems, business practices and insight into the personal lives of the of the Hampton family who ran the farm and the Brown Bros. who were the business partners.

Early transportation systems like this riverboat distributed citrus from Palatka, Florida to the railhead in Utica N.Y.

We have made headway so far with the research of the ancestry records of the Hampton family as well as the Brown family. I am hoping that fluid narrative will emerge from further data analysis because, after all, what I am seeking from this is a good story.

IAM Residency’s focus is on creative projects. Our interest in special cultural projects which explore historic and regional themed concepts is based in our mission to create content through the interpretation of artists, musicians and writers. Installations like Th3Rivers exhibit distills information into spacial narratives which allows for a broader audience experience.

I would like artists to create a story using images, sound and words in an interdisciplinary exhibit to interpret this historic data for a more complete user experience.

Any historic narrative, no matter how much data, is essentially fiction. It’s based on the perspective of the writer. These paintings are from a series called “Home” I did a few years ago. Simply paintings of ordinary objects found around my house which I could finish in one day. I would like to do a series of paintings like these of objects one could have found in the home of Malachai Hampton as a visual narrative. These could be accompanied by sounds and music, words and data chosen from the documents or specific documents referencing ordinary events such a grocery receipt from 1923 or the weather report from an ordinary day or the recipe for a pie. This could allow the narrative to be interpreted by the viewers perspective. Perhaps this could be an interesting approach to a spacial narrative composed by the viewer.

I am not sure what form this exhibit will take, I am merely suggesting a delivery system. This is the way an artist approaches their work, unsure of exactly how it will look in the end. Employing the techniques of their craft and allowing it to unfold itself.

All I know is that everyone I have told about this project seems very interested in it’s creation and that I should move forward with it. I hope it can become something very special.