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Schuyler Flatts Burial Ground Project

Recently, as an artist, I was involved with a very important event. This event was not only important to me, but equally as important to my community & humanity as a whole. The following post is an attempt by me to recount the events as they unfolded & to share the joy I received while honoring the lives of people that have come before us.

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"On June 5th, 2005 construction work in the Town of Colonie, NY (Route 32 near Menands/Watervliet) revealed an unmarked burial ground. Archaeologists discovered 13 sets of remains plus another set of remains was found in 1998. A total of 14 individuals were discovered. In 2010, bioarchaeological analysis was completed by the NYS Museum. The analyses determined that the remains are about 200 years old and represent 6 women, 1 man, 2 children, and five infants. DNA analysis concluded that four of the individuals are of African descent. (West/East and Central Africa) Two sets of remains are descendants of women from Madagascar (off the coast of Southeast Africa). One individual, who may have been of mixed ancestry, was descendant from a Native American woman (possibly Micmac Tribe: Eastern Canada and the Northeastern corner of the United States). The burial ground was dated between the 1700s and early 1800s. Historical research indicates that the burial ground was part of a large estate owned by the colonial Schuyler family who owned a number of slaves in the 18th and 19th centuries.

In order for these people to be buried with dignity and respect the Schuyler Flatts Burial Ground Project Committee planned and implemented a ceremonial celebration at St. Agnes Cemetery located in Menands, NY. Artists were asked to create burial containers for the remains of 14 enslaved humans so that may be laid to rest with honor.

The Schuyler Flatts Burial Ground Project Committee has asked all artist involved with creating burial containers to incorporated the symbol of the Sankofa. The concept of Sankofa is derived from King Adinkera of the Akan people of West Africa. The symbolic meaning is “it is not taboo to go back and fetch what you forgot”

Information provided by the Schuyler Flatts Burial Ground Project

My original conceptual design submitted for review. This design was accepted as is.

I built my burial containers with pine wood & brass hinges because these materials were typical of the time period of which the enslaved humans passed away.

After pre-fitting all the pieces, I took them apart to apply the stain finish.

Originally I planned to finish the burial containers with Tar Pine. At the last minute I change my mind & went with an ebony stain. To use Tar Pine would have been historically accurate, but Tar Pine is sticky & never fully dries because it is an organic substance & I didn't want there to be any issues when they containers were being handled at the funeral.

After several coats of stain, I hand painted the Sankofa symbol with black enamel .

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April 30th, 2016 1pm-3pm - Public meeting and Artist Presentation New York State Museum (Huxley theatre), 222 Madison Ave, Albany, NY

Albany Artist Dan Hogan speaks at NYS Museum in Albany NY.

Video by Jason Chaplin.

After public meeting & artist presentation at the New York State Museum, I was presented with a plaque for recognition of service.

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June 17th 2016 12pm-8pm - The remains will Lie in State Schuyler Mansion State Historic Site, 32 Catherine St, Albany, NY

The burial container I constructed along with 13 other burial containers were laid in state on July 13, 2016 at the Schuyler Mansion State Historic Site in the South End of Albany, NY.

The New York State Museum created facial reconstruction from several of the human remains found within the burial sight. Facial reconstructions were used to remind individuals that these were once people & should not be viewed as objects.

"Burial 9 is a woman 50-60 years old. She was about 5’4” tall and robust for her size. Even her back was muscular where some of the vertebrae fused from arthritis after years of hard work. She had lost several teeth and the ones that were left had cavities and some were worn from smoking a pipe. Her left arm was shorter than her right and the base of her skull was misshapen suggesting she may have held her head to one side. It did not however, prohibit her from working hard all of her life. She was probably born in New York but her DNA analysis indicates her maternal ancestry was from Madagascar where there was an illegal slave trade at the turn of the 18th century."

Information provided by the New York State Museum

While at the Schuyler Mansion State Historic Site, I had the opportunity to speak to a group of students that also created a burial container for the Schuyler Flatts Burial Ground Project. I told them that I, as an artist, was inspired by the amount of research they did while creating their container & how their dedication & love for the project was evident in the quality of the container & how they spoke about their experience during this important project.

Photograph by Treha Myth Downey

Fourth-graders from All Saints Catholic Academy in Albany, NY

Photograph by Treha Myth Downey

The burial container on the left was created by fourth-graders from All Saints Catholic Academy in Albany, NY & the burial container on the right is one of the burial containers I created.

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June 18th 2016 11am-12pm Burial Ceremony St Agnes Cemetery, 48 Cemetery Ave (off Broadway), Menands, NY

The following images were captured on June 18, 2016 at Historic St. Agnes Cemetery, Menands, New York during the Schuyler Flatts Burial Ground Project.

I was hesitant to take photographs during the ceremony because I did not want to be disrespectful or to lose the spiritual connection with the ceremony. However, I could not resist documenting such a powerful moment in time when so many people came together to honor the ones that came before them.

All photographs by Han Dogan unless otherwise noted.

My Brother John Brown escorting the remains of an enslaved human to be laid to rest respectfully.

Photograph appropriated from Jonathan Cohen with the Albany Diocesan Cemeteries via AP.

Edited by Han Dogan

Photograph appropriated from Albany Diocesan Cemeteries.

I wanted to be part of this project because of it's importance to humanity. It was a great honor to be involved with an event that brought so many different people together in the name of peace & love. While just being involved with this project was thanks enough, I was both shocked & honored when the New York State Museum approached me & asked if they could keep one of the containers I built in their permanent collection so that it could be displayed in future exhibits.

I sincerely want to thank everyone that came together to make this happen.

The following are links to media coverage of the Schuyler Flatts Burial Ground Project.

Associated Press video

News 10 video

TWC News 9 video

Daily Mail UK.com AP news story

Schenectady Daily Gazette article

The Evangelist article

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Est. 1823

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Albany, New York

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