A new public art piece was installed at Northwestern State University last week that acknowledges several aspects of Natchitoches/NSU history and legacies that are passed down from one generation to the next.
“Confluence” by public artist DeeDee Morrison, is modeled after the shape of a pen quill with a basket weave pattern inspired by the work of Caddo Indians that once inhabited the area. Within the pattern are laser cutouts that depict the leaves of a pawpaw tree and the zebra swallowtail butterfly, whose caterpillars feed on the pawpaw leaves. Pawpaw is another name for chinquapin, a native fruit-bearing tree, from which Natchitoches derives its name, translated from the Caddo language as “place of the pawpaw.”
“Just as in the southern quilting traditions, these cultural legacies are maintained by women who continue to pass on the tradition, mother-to-daughter from one generation to the next. The conical shape of the form reflects the tip of a pen quill and its connection to the importance of the written word in documenting our shared history,” Morrison explained in her proposal.
The sculpture, 17 feet tall and 1,300 pounds, stands in the triangle where Sam Sibley Drive meets Caspari Street and is illuminated at night with LED lighting. The sculpture was designed by Morrison and installed by Doug Smoak, also an artist and sculptor, who fabricated the steel piece and worked with campus personnel on its installation. The site will soon be landscaped to compliment the new sculpture.
“Confluence” sits directly in front of NSU’s Student Services Center that opened in 2012. The project was funded by Louisiana Percent for Art program, which stipulates that whenever more than $2 million in state funds is spent by a state agency for the construction or renovation of a state building, 1 percent of the state money is reserved to restore or install works of art for display in or on the grounds of the state building.
Morrison has been working as a public artist for 15 years and has an extensive resume of projects all over the U.S.
“With public art, our communities have the ability to transcend language, impact emotion, conceptual thought and contribute to an impactful and informed public space,” according to her website. “Bridging the fields of history, biogeography and art, the sculptural forms weave together elements of creativity, geology, natural history and technology to uniquely craft a story of place and home.”
Morrison has a connection to NSU. Her grandmother, Anne Dixon of Belcher, attended Louisiana State Normal College, as NSU was then known, from 1922-24 and earned a teaching certificate. Her grandmother, who lived to be 101, had a profound influence on Morrison. She was a teacher before her marriage and also the sister of acclaimed Louisiana artist and sculptor Clyde Connell.
“‘Confluence’ is the merging of different flows, like a river and the things I learned from my grandmother,” she said. “It’s the legacy, like a quilt or remnants of pieces that you assemble and pass down through families or with the Normal School have an opportunity to learn and go on and teach others.”
In developing the concept for “Confluence,” Morrison visited the NSU Archives to research the history of the town, the Caddo and their pottery and basketry patterns, which can be complex. The piece she designed for NSU incorporates themes not only of history, but also the area’s connection to the pawpaw tree and its coevolutionary pollinator, the zebra swallowtail, which nests within the pawpaw, a collaborative ecosystem that speaks directly to education, Morrison explained.
“It’s three dimensional and there are a lot of layers,” Morrison said. “The structure itself is a complicated structural design. It’s the confluence of events. It’s a powerful concept.”