In a space that used to be a cemetery greenhouse, local artist Cooper Sanchez has established a temporary outdoor art gallery. It’s a garden under an invisible roof, filled with orange and yellow cosmos, moonflowers, and giant castor beans—plants that will perform well in the dark. Although most of us just sneak into the cemetery to see it at night, this specially grown space has been cultivated for an official one-night art show tucked inside an extraordinary context (Friday, October 9, from 7-11PM). What a treat….
Cooper Sanchez is not just an artist, he’s a gardener who has been employed to help restore Historic Oakland Cemetery from the destruction of a 2008 tornado. His mentor, Brooks Garcia, has the contract with the cemetery; together they added over 3,000 plants to the grounds. Tending to graves, Sanchez was embedded in this environment for over a year and a half. The time spent there inspired him to make a body of work and display it in the disappeared greenhouse.
Having worked with authority figures to make it a reality, Sanchez presents paintings outside and 30 cyanotypes (sun photography) on lightboxes arranged in a small brick storage area adjacent to the greenhouse. The prints are made from clippings he collected from his own meadow in Clarkston—all plant life at the end of the growing cycle. The complex symbology of headstone imagery is also a source for his artwork. Sanchez says of the carved botanical references that abound: “without exception, they all mean something.”
In addition to the two-dimensional artwork that will be included in Oakland: In the Greenhouse Ruins, Sanchez intends to plow two acres of Potter’s Field to make a public wildflower meadow, which he has also received permission to do. Unbeknownst to most neighbors and visitors who play Frisbee and let their dogs run in this open green space, Potter’s Field is the burial site of more than 7,500 bodies. The “indigent” citizens resting here were slaves, convicts, insane, or just plain poor. At Oakland, plots were sold out by 1884; back then, if one’s family did not own a lot, burial occurred in Potter’s Field, where no differences of religion and race ever mattered. A single monument commemorates them all, an inspiring model for contemporary cemetery design.
Urban cemeteries are not just spaces for the families and friends of the loved ones buried there. They provide precious, though often solemn, green spaces, and are places to contemplate history as well as mortality in a general sense. This innovative art show is indeed faithful to the Victorian intention that the living should enjoy cemeteries.
A one-night-only event, Oakland: In the Greenhouse Ruins will be on view in Historic Oakland Cemetery on Friday, October 9, from 7-11PM. Park at Six Feet Under or Ria’s Bluebird and access the cemetery via the Memorial Drive entrance.