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Earthworks 1967-68

From the unpublished paper "Working With Tony Smith"
by Salvatore Federico, 1971

Tony and I went to Skowhegan, Maine in August [1967]. The Summer School had invited him to give a lecture and critique. We heard that one of the students was working on an earthworks and we went up into the woods to look at it. It was a simple affair. The shape was rectangular, about 12 feet by 5 feet. Within this area, a flatbed had been excavated to a depth of about six inches. It was being lined with plaster. On this occasion, Tony and I talked about earthworks very briefly. In fact, we only talked about them on one other occasion, when [a] friend came down from Bennington to visit. They were reminiscing about the Indian mounds in Ohio and I sat in on the conversation. After I came back to Richmond and built some earthworks with my students, Tony became very interested in what we were doing. He saw photographs of three of these projects and encouraged me to have them published.

The first earthworks was constructed with the aid of my design students in the Fall of 1967, shortly after I began teaching at VCU. It was a pyramidal affair with three edges at ground level. I can't remember the exact dimensions, but the two long sides were about 18 feet in length, with the third side being somewhat shorter. A trench was cut around the three sides. It was approximately two feet wide and about 18 inches deep. The earth removed from this trench was piled into the center of the triangle that we had laid out. As the volume of earth grew, it began to naturally form a pyramid, with the lines of stress and sloping sides. The final height was about three feet.

In that same field in Short Pump, Virginia, we built another mound two weeks later. This one was circular, with a diameter of 14 feet. The trench around it was the same size as in the first mound, but the earth did not pile up quite as high. Another group of students built a similiar earthworks in Hanover County, in the Fall of 1968. The earth on that site was red with clay and the color was beautiful.

The largest and the most interesting earthworks that my students built was in the Spring of 1968. It was constructed near Parham Road and Route 64, in Richmond. It was made up of three connected circular mounds, each approximately 14 feet in diameter, with a two foot trench encircling the entire group. The overall length was about 45 feet. The first two circles were aligned on a common axis, but the third circle was thrown off. The shape, from above, was pneumatic and had been suggested by the shapes in Smith's paintings. The mound was dug in a clearing among very tall trees. There must have been fifty students working on it. We returned to this site many times after the work was completed.

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