Oral Tradition

Oral Tradition #1: Flood and Fire


I was commissioned by South Cumminsville Community Council to produce a pair of murals celebrating South Cumminsville history as an African American neighborhood. I wanted to do something more fun and engaging than the typical historical mural, and suggested using drawings by local children as source material. The history that the council wanted to depict is not available in books or newspapers. It lives in the memories of neighborhood residents, some of whom have lived there for more than 50 years. We set up more than a dozen sessions where a neighborhood elder shared memories with an afterschool program, and the children made drawings inspired by their stories.

The drawings were scanned and put into Photoshop. I selected drawings from eighteen children. I combined parts of these drawings into images for the two murals. Most of the drawings were in black and white. I created the color scheme, and in some areas added patterns and texture. I also drew some of the local celebrities included in the second mural.

The final murals are titled “Oral Tradtion #1: Flood and Fire” and “Oral Tradition #2: Circus”. Each is more than 10 feet tall and 56 feet long. Father Jim Hasse of the Jessuits was my priimary assistant. Children as young as four years old helped with the early stages of painting.

The term “oral tradtion” refers to the ages-old process of sharing history, knowledge and mythology through storytelling from one generation to the next. Flood refers to the 1937 flood. Fire refers to the Husman's Potato Chip factory fire. I like to think that the healthy and happy children against a backdrop of disasters speaks of the strength of family I found in South Cumminsville. Circus refers to the circus that at one time appeared annually in the neighborhood. It is here that I also placed local activists and professional ball players, because circus can also refer to the arena of the public eye, and is a subtle reference to the pressures that must have been experienced by these heros.

At this time, “Flood and Fire” is complete and is pictured here. “Circus” will be posted when is finished.







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Copyright© 2005 by Carol Ann Newsome

Three Aunties
Three Aunts

As young girls, jumping rope
6 O'clock Bell
6 O'clock Bell

All the children had to be in their yards before the chirch bell stopped ringing
Husman's Fire
Husman's Fire and the Wee Babies Gang

A quartet of five and six year olds who burgled, then burned
Dancer
Dancer

This young lady enjoys the carnival before going to the Big Apple club
Lightning
Lightning and Music

The mural design was amended to include a recent lightning strike at old Saint Pius Church. Every Friday, the Garfield School band paraded through the neighborhood