Seitu Jones Interview Transcript

ATT JACOBSON: While I set the levels, if you would say and spell your name. SEITU JONES: OK. My name is Seitu Jones. That's S-E-I-T-U J-O-N-E-S. How's that? MJ: That's good. Great. So, to get us started, if you don't mind, just give me a brief autobiographical sketch. Just a thumbnail sketch of kind of where you grew up, where you're from, the trajectory that you've taken, what you're doing now. SJ: In how many minutes? MJ: It's up to you. [SJ Laughs.] SJ: You know I feel kind of like Bill Cosby. I remember he was asked that years ago, and he said, I began as a child. But I guess to even begin, I should really, to even set a context for who I am, I am a fourth-generation Minnesotan, and with the birth of my kids, my family and my grandkids now, my family's been here for six generations. My great grandfather was a slave, escaped slave, fought in the Civil War, and then migrated to Minnesota up the Mississippi, we're assuming, and landed in Red Wing, a small town right on the river, one of these river towns and worked in a hotel, as a porter, that's still standing, in the early 1880's, and then farmed around Rochester, where my grandmother was born. My father was born in Saint Paul just a few miles away from where we are now. And I was born in Minneapolis. I was born in North Minneapolis. My earliest memories are from the Quonset huts that were old Army barracks that were placed throughout urban areas to house all these returning World War II veterans. And whether it was by law or not, many of these returning World War veterans, who were black, were all living in the same areas. So my earliest memories are of my father and his old buddies and friends, and we moved up and out of the Quonset huts and into the projects, the federally funded housing projects. And at an early age, you know, I was really interested in art. And I can even remember drawing. My father was an artist. And I can remember watching him draw, playing with his tools and materials and brushes when he was gone away. And even though he'd catch me, he still never really discouraged me from experimenting. And he was my biggest supporter throughout that time. MJ: He was an artistic person or he was a working artist? SJ: He was an artistic person, trained as an artist, went to the University of Minnesota, didn't graduate, but many of his contemporaries felt that he was a really strong artist. And I say many of his white contemporaries, really I should be more specific, that he went to school with at the university. And Dad never got the jobs that they got, that had kind of the same background, and Dad finally gave up looking for work as an artist when somebody told him, you know, that we don't hire colored folks. And that was-- I mean, he had always been working for the government, and retired from the post office as a letter carrier and as a business person. He owned a little liquor store in South Minneapolis, always active. But because of his experience, he was sometimes reticent about me following that path, not wanting me to experience the same frustrations, but ended up becoming my biggest supporter and promoter. Dad died, now, about 22 years ago, but I still think of him almost every day. I mean, it's really as a result of him and this big supportive family that I grew up in. I had aunts and uncles that encouraged me, that told me over and over how smart I was to the point where me and all my cousins actually started to believe that. And that was enough to help us when we encountered many of the obstacles in this racist society. But I went away to school, went to Morehouse College, got frustrated there because there was no art department. And initially, though, I stepped away from art. I wanted to be a historian, of all things and still use history as one of the themes that guides my work, but went away to school, came back here, finished up at the University of Minnesota, got married, had two kids. You know, all along the way over this last, 40 years it's been since I graduated from high school, I've been fortunate and blessed and persistent enough to have jobs that have been related to art or to working with my hands in some way. Sometimes, it was a real drudgery, sometimes it was horrible work, but it was still work that was related to art in some way or another. And also, getting caught up in the mix of the politics of the times. You know, my work and politics were influenced by cultural nationalism, by the Black Panther Party, by the kind of Marxism of the time, actually almost the kind of Groucho Marxism of the time [SJ and MJ laugh], but this real mix. You know, one day we were listening to The Last Poets, the next day we were listening to Hendrix or The Beatles. I mean, all of that was a part of this rich mix of stuff that really cemented these tenets that I still follow to this day. And you know, one of the things that came out of cultural nationalism-- actually, and this is even part is like the Nguzo Saba, the seven principles. And one of them just froze in my mind, and that was to make your communities more beautiful than you found them. I got caught up in the early mural movement, really being influenced and impacted by the Wall of Respect in Chicago. I used to get shipped to Chicago, because that's where my mother is from, from the time I was like about four or five in the summers. That's where we spent-- so I was growing up with all these white kids that would end up going to their grandparents' farms, while I ended up on the south side of Chicago and spent my whole summers down there. And in '67, I think it was, my grandfather took me by the Wall of Respect, which was in his old neighborhood in Chicago. And it just kind of blew my mind that here was this art work that was present for folks, that was accessible to folks, was not in a museum, was not in a gallery, but this was a way of informing and influencing folks. And it was beautiful. And it was multimedia. It was photography, it was painting, it was all these different styles. I mean, in the scheme of things, it was on a building about as big as mine right now, but it was enormous to me at that time. And since that time, I've chosen to do work in the public realm, work that also informs and inspires, work that is large scale, mixed media, all picking up from all these folks at the time. In reflection, I can see that. At the time, I was just caught up in the rich mix of stuff that was happening. But I'm sitting here blabbering on here. MJ: No, not at all. SJ: You just asked me one question, and I'm just going on. MJ: Well, I'm curious, if you could say a little bit more about your kind of political coming to consciousness. When that was and-- SJ: Yeah-- MJ: --what were the moments that, in retrospect, are most vivid to you, where you were thinking, oh, this is kind of a light bulb goes on. This is something I believe in or can articulate in a new way and that my own artistic work maybe is going to be an expression of? SJ: Well, you know, it's hard to put a finger on just one point. It's like all the historians that debate on the fall of the Roman Empire. When did it exactly happen? MJ: [Laughing] Right. SJ: And I think we're experiencing that right now. [SJ laughs.] MJ: We'll get to that. SJ: Yeah, that's a little bit later. But for me, I can kind of remember my political wake up was Emmett Till. I can still-- MJ: How old were you? SJ: It seems like I was around six or seven. It seems like it. But when that happened, I was about four. And that's only now in retrospect I look back at that. And I remember seeing the pictures in Jet magazine when I went over to my grandmother's house and looking at it there. And, you know, Emmett Till's momma, that said she wanted everybody to see what they did to her son, there's so many folks who are my age, in their late 50s, so many black folks that remember that and remember it from Jet magazine, even. Folks who did not see the body, who were not there. But we all had this kind of shared and common experience. MJ: Right. SJ: I mean, it's not like 9/11, or it's not like when Kennedy or King was assassinated, where you remember where you were, and were all kind of in the same place at the same time. This happened-- I can remember when I saw that, and I can remember even the room I was in where I saw it with the pile and the stack and saw it. MJ: So, I'm curious about this. Were you encouraged to look at it? SJ: No, uh-uh. MJ: Or you were kind of protected from it, but it happened to see it? SJ: No. They didn't even protect me from it. I picked it up. And I saw it. I read it. Well, I didn't read it, but I remember the pictures. I remember that. And that had such power. I can't remember or recall any adults being around, if they condoned it, if they condemned it. Nobody snatched it out of my hand. But I just remember seeing that and how that seared in my mind. And the thing that got me and that I related to, and I must have known something about, is that I knew that white people had done that, and I knew that this was a kid like me. And that was my kind of early coming of age. I mean, there are all these other little things that happen. I mean, people call you nigger and little acts of discrimination. But in terms of something that-- this light bulb going off in my head, where I could really point to it, it was looking at that magazine. MJ: That was that. So where do you go with that as a four-year-old kid? I mean it's hard to even-- SJ: Yeah, well, you know, I don't know. I don't know what happened after that. And when I really started becoming I guess more politically savvy and sophisticated was while I was in high school. And that was all coupled with this activism, knowing what was happening down South. I mean, coming up seeing all of that happening and seeing all that stuff happening and getting caught up in that rich mix of politics, of activism. I can remember working in high school. We had a small black student organization and also getting tied in with-- you know, here's another thing that happened to me. And this is like this line to Peter again and the history department at Macalester. [Peter Rachleff, Professor of History at Macalester, had arranged the interview between SJ and MJ.]  I don't know if you've ran into-- I can't remember Mahmoud El-Kati being on that list. Mahmoud taught at Macalester for years and years. But before that, he was teaching history in a wide range of contexts, and he taught a class in African American history in 1968-- 1967, for this thing called the Twin Cities Institute for Talented Youth. And a man that knew my mother encouraged me to apply. And I applied, because they all had a wide range of courses, but I remember this one on African American history. And I took that class. I was in high school, and Mahmoud opened up this whole world to me. And it was a small class of like ten people, all black students, and there were a handful of us that ended up being active in all these different areas. And some of them even became like at the pinnacle of their kind of professional trajectories. One guy now is the head of medicine at a hospital in Detroit. One woman just stepped down as a judge in Minneapolis. I mean, but all of us were students of Mahmoud at this time. And that's where all this stuff kind of came together, my family and my experiences, my neighborhood. I mean, all of that stuff kind of came together there. Mahmoud opened up this whole world of black accomplishment and achievement, but had the ability to kind of place us in context and challenge us to do something about it as well, too, and we all ended up doing it. And it's funny, because we all get together. You've got to ask Peter about Mahmoud, as well, too. But after that, Mahmoud taught almost two generations of students at Macalester. And Peter and Mahmoud overlapped during that time. Peter came to Macalester, Mahmoud was there. But anyway, saying all that to say that that was kind of the crucible that helped shape me. I mean, but there are all these other things that happened. But in terms of being awakened, it was there. MJ: Right. And kind of assembling a vocabulary in a way. SJ: Exactly, exactly. MJ: So can you talk a little bit about how from that point, how you kind of carried that kind of newly emergent way of looking and questioning into your artistic work and what's been your trajectory since those years? SJ: Well you know, initially, some of the tenets of the Black Panther Party and even cultural nationalism-- MJ: I'm sorry to interrupt, but I was wondering how much of the kind of periodic time that you spent in Chicago. Was that about an important part of your political education? SJ: Oh, yeah, yeah. MJ: Being in that setting? SJ: Very much so. Very much so. I mean, I'm so glad that I was able to do that as well, too. I mean, in retrospect, I hated getting bundled up. Once I got older in high school, or closer to high school, maybe junior high age, you know, like that 13, 14, I wanted to be here. I didn't want to go down to Chicago anymore and hang out with my grandparents, and do any of that stuff. But I was so glad, now in retrospect, that Mom and Dad did that, and I would always tease them. I still tease my mother about it. I mean, they would drive us down to Chicago and almost burn rubber, you know? [SJ laughs.] We would see them going off in the distance, standing on a curb, you know, my sister and I. But all of that helped shape us. My world was like Minneapolis and the south side of Chicago, sometimes Saint Louis, but we didn't go anywhere else. I mean, that was it. And also, each one of these black communities. They were starting to deteriorate, but there were all these institutions that still existed there in these black communities. They were still relatively strong. I mean, the south side of Chicago, you know, Chicago itself is a city of superlatives: largest Mexican population, largest Polish population outside of Warsaw, largest black community outside of Lagos, I mean, all that kind of stuff. And you could see that. You could travel for miles on the south side of Chicago, and it was a completely black world, man. And I hope you get down to Chicago and talk to folks at some point, too. MJ: Oh yeah, I will. SJ: But I mean here, for me, coming from a small town to big city, and I had to learn quickly on my feet [SJ laughs], you know, getting plucked from there and dropped in it. I mean, I guess, you know, one of the most frightening times was being in Chicago after Martin Luther King died. We were on our way to Chicago, and this was when I was in high school. And when Martin Luther King died, and I remember-- this is another time where you remember exactly where you were. And when the announcement came on, my dad and I were running around trying to get ready to go, because we were going to be driving all night long. And the announcement came on, and my dad and I just froze in front of the TV, watching it in silence and unbelief. And I remember Dad saying, oh, man, they're going to tear up Chicago tonight. And that didn't sink in, initially. But on the way there, we kept hearing these reports about gunfire, about the National Guard, and it was amazing being there at that time and seeing Chicago literally under martial law in the days of Daley. You know, with seeing these police cars going up and down the street with shotguns sticking outside of like three of the windows and seeing the National Guard troops there, the smoke and the haze. I mean, it was frightening. It was frightening, and also, it was also this rich learning experience, seeing America at this point and still being shocked by this assassination, this being the second of those like three different things. But getting back to my work and being politicized, you know, the tenets of the Black Panther Party and cultural nationalists, many folks felt that art should advance these political concerns. So I was doing pamphlets, brochures, illustrations for posters, and that's how I saw my work. I saw my work being a part of this movement. Not thinking at the time that it was really this movement that folks would afterward call the Black Arts Movement. But that was the cultural component of all that we were doing. And it was only later that I began to question even that kind of ethic. MJ: Question it how? SJ: Well, questioning it that art had all these other roles. There were artists that were also doing work that was abstract, but that work was questioned by a lot of folks. A lot of folks would ask, is that even black? You know, and what is black art? And is there a black aesthetic? And all of those arguments and questions. And it made me start to think about that in different ways as my work became more abstracted, more conceptual. And I was taking my cue at that time from black musicians, you know, from folks as varied as Coltrane to Pharaoh Sanders, even to Miles Davis. I mean, all those folks were doing work that was at that time really abstract, and it was justified. I mean, it was still work that was part of this tradition. And so I began to move away from just this one idea of what art was, that it always had to be overtly political. MJ: Right, and narrative in some way. SJ: Exactly. All very literal or realistic and pretty much two dimensional. You know? So as I moved further away from that, my work became more sculptural, became larger, became much more conceptual, but still holding on to those tenets. I still want my work to inform and inspire, and I still draw from the politics of the times we're living in. My work really reflects the physical, the social, the cultural characteristics of a particular site. I mean, I draw from all those things when I create this work. MJ: So maybe if you can kind of speak through the prism of your own work in recent years, could you talk a little bit about-- let's jump ahead in time a little bit and talk about the last decade or so, which has been a troubling and maybe truly desperate time in certain ways. SJ: Yeah. MJ: It's also been a hopeful time more recently. SJ: Yeah, really. MJ: And more recently still, a kind of disappointing time. SJ: Exactly. MJ: You talked about the fall of the Roman Empire. SJ: Yeah, right. MJ: Can you talk about the work that you've done, but also how that expresses your own sense of the storm we've been riding through since about 2000? SJ: Yeah, you know, I always have to also start out by saying how fortunate and how blessed I am. I've been very persistent. But I've also been very lucky that I have had this opportunity to have this perspective, to have time for reflection. Because there's so many folks who I know, who are friends, who are family, who don't have that time, because of the desperate situations that we're in right now. You know, in looking back at this last decade, it has been kind of up and down. And actually, what I've been saying by fortunate, you know, I've been able to earn a living from my work for a long time. And in these times even, I have been able to still live and live a relatively comfortable lifestyle based on my work, and that is a true blessing right now here in America, in the last days of America. And I don't know where it's going to be. And there were times in my early career when I could only see a few days ahead. And then over time, with persistence, I could see a month ahead, three months ahead, six months. Now I can see further ahead. But I don't know what's at the end here yet for this thing. But man, yeah, this has been a ride watching this stuff play out. I'll even go back a little bit further. Soyini and I. Soyini's my wife. We were laughing about this. We had a friend from Ghana who was staying with us during the first Clinton election, and leading up to that time. And he was just enthralled with this stuff, because at the very same time, Ghana was electing its first democratically elected president. And since that time, that was in 1993, or '92. And since that time, you know, Ghana has been on the same election cycle. So every time there's a president elected in Ghana, there's one elected here. So we've halfway kind of followed that, too. But I mean since that time. But Kwaiku was just, like, blown away that there were lines, first of all. Now in Africa, in a lot of countries in Africa where people do vote, you know, there are lines that are much longer than the lines that he saw at the polls during the time he was here. But at that time, he was just blown away by that. And then afterward, he was blown away that nobody was mad, and nobody threatened to take power, control, and people weren't skittish, that that was not going to happen. In Ghana, people would always be concerned, and they were initially. They had that anxiety-- MJ: About the transfer of, yeah. SJ: Yeah, that first election. You know, well, we're not through it yet. And the further and further away from it that they've gotten, now it's this kind of free-wheeling democracy like we have, for good or for bad. The kind of big D, not the little d in democracy. And it's kind of be careful what you ask for sometimes. But going back at that time and the excitement that a lot of folks-- and hope that people had during the Clinton years, even. And then with the disappointments. Not in his indiscretions, but like with Rwanda, like with Eastern Europe. I mean, I'm talking about foreign policy. MJ: Right, Kosovo, and-- SJ: Exactly. And then with his retreat from-- I mean, this whole move to what's folks were calling the center. The failure of Hillary at that time in being able to push through any kind of solution to health care. All of those were like real experiences, I mean real, to me, setbacks. And then for that to usher in those Bush years. Man, that was truly frightening. I mean, we were, I feel, as close to the precipice as many folks felt in the late '60s. In the late '60s, early '70s, man, I thought that the revolution was going to happen, you know, next month, next year. We were that close to America falling apart to me and that was mirrored during that whole time period during the Bush years. And stuff that we knew that was happening that is coming to light now in regards to the way that we were all spied upon, the secrets that happened, and the fact that he was just dumb. We had a really dumb president [SJ and MJ laugh]. I'll go on record as saying that. I mean, even now, it's like Obama has trotted he and Bill Clinton out to build support for Haiti. I mean, he still sounds dumb. But anyway, to come up to this time here and all of the hope that we all had, and knowing that Obama could change things incrementally, in knowing that there wouldn't be a real big fundamental change, hoping that there would be, but now we're back to this kind of grim reality. I mean, living in this time, man, and this gets now back to the fall of the Roman Empire and how people couldn't pinpoint when it happened. You know, was it here? Or was it here? MJ: But that's not just a metaphor for you? SJ: Exactly. That's the reality that we're living in right now. I mean, we're seeing the decline of the American empire, and we have all benefitted from it. Everyone who lives here has benefitted from it in some way, and now it is collapsing. It's collapsing ecologically. It's collapsing economically, our physical infrastructure. You've driven, now around the streets here and seen these potholes. I've never seen potholes as bad as they are now here in Minnesota. I mean, you get the freeze-thaw, you've got these deep, deep ruts. And so take your guide from the car in front you as it swerves out of the way. You don't know what they're swerving out of the way from, but you know that's there's a big pothole up there. The collapse of the 35W--. MJ: The bridge, yeah. SJ: --bridge.  You know, it's like on and on and on and on here. And this is like this little-- here in the Twin Cities, and you multiply that throughout urban areas around the country. And knowing that we'll never be able to catch up to it. Obama and his administration, talk about the 10,000 or even 100,000 jobs that were added recently. But knowing that we've lost like about 8 million jobs that are gone right now. I can see it here in my neighborhood as well, too. I was in Haiti right before the earthquake, and I was telling my wife that there were-- I'd run into these men who were a lot like the men I see here on this block. Black men who are my age who have had run-ins with the law, and so, as result of a felony, even though they've changed their lives, that still tracks them. And so they have not-- there's a guy here, a couple doors down, who has never really been a part of the economy as we know it. Even though he hasn't done anything illegal, he's been living this whole, a part of this underground economy, where he does odd jobs for folks, takes kind of whatever comes, doesn't go into any day labor stuff at all, but is always out hustling. And I was telling Soyini-- his name is Ron. I was telling Soyini, I came back from there and I said there's a whole country full of folks like Ron. You know, these men who are strong, able, and willing to work, but for a wide range of reasons, they haven't been able to. And if you multiply Ron by this kind of exponential factor, that there are all these folks here, throughout the world, who haven't been able to benefit from this society the way I have, the way a whole bunch of other folks have. And so, I wonder if they'll ever be able to fully participate. If the economy changed tomorrow, Ron still wouldn't be able to fully participate because of the way that many states regard folks with felonies. And that's just one example of that. I mean, it's been frustrating to watch and to see this decline. You know, the other thing that we're seeing here in Frogtown-- when we first moved here to Frogtown-- and that's what this little neighborhood is called: Frogtown. When we first moved here to Frogtown, I remember somebody telling me that Frogtown had the most black businesses, had more black businesses than any other neighborhood. He says the only problem is that they're all crack houses. And the neighborhood really worked to eliminate all of those crack houses. We moved here kind of at the tail end of the crack epidemic, and so we saw that big change. There's still a lot of absentee landlords, and landlords who don't care, And so there were still some problem houses here in Frogtown. Noisy houses, and we'd end up calling the cops a lot of times. People would demonstrate in front of some of these houses. People would call. My wife was always-- she'd get the number of the landlords and call the landlords, and say, listen to this, and put the phone up to the window. Or in front of the house. Say, this is a party going on at the house that you own right now. I mean, all these little things here. But with the housing crisis, a lot of those folks that bought those houses on speculation have lost them. They were the first to lose them. Now we're seeing families lose them. And the thing that we're seeing now is this neighborhood being depopulated. And so now on some of those same summer nights when it would be loud and noisy, it is quiet. So we enjoy the peace, but are concerned about next steps. What's going to happen now? As light rail comes through here just a few blocks from here and the stop is going to be on Dale Street, that's going to bring development and new development. And will we see this cycle all over again, where people, once the housing market begins to turn around again, where people buy these houses on speculation, or can we help folks stay in their homes who are here? Can we direct folks that would want to work towards the benefit of the neighborhood here? Can we work on ways to get them to own their own houses? I mean, it has tremendous potential now. In a way, it's like the slate has been wiped clean. Not in the same way like Port-au-Prince has been, but we have the same kind of political uncertainty that a lot of folks in Port-au-Prince are facing, because we've got, there, an ineffective government. Here we've got a government that is collapsing, that can't do everything. What's going to happen? One of the things that we have actually begun to do is I've been working with a group of black environmentalists as well as my wife and a couple here in the neighborhood on issues around food security. And we have been working to try and start an urban farm. I mean, we grow food ourselves, and encourage our neighbors, and actually we're part of a CSA [Community Supported Agriculture]. Actually, a CSA that came out of this association of these African American environmentalists. And my wife and I and this other couple have been working to preserve about 13 acres of open land that was on the market after a foundation that had been there at that site for almost 100 years moved away. The Wilder Foundation moved about a half a mile away, University Avenue, and left this land there. They were initially going to sell it to whoever could come up with the money. And we wanted to make sure that that land-- a big part of this land has always been open space. It's the only sliding [sledding] hill in Frogtown, highest point in Frogtown, big grove of oak trees on one side, and so it's been our informal park in a neighborhood that has the least amount of land dedicated to passive green space in Saint Paul. No other neighborhood in Saint Paul has as little kind of green space as we do. And so we've been actively working on that and actually now moving in a position where we want to embarrass Wilder Foundation if they try to sell it to a developer that'll put up condos, and been working with the county, the city, with Trust for Public Land to acquire that piece of property. So anyway, we're taking this proactive stance right now. And there's an area where the buildings for the Wilder Foundation used to exist that's on top of the hill, this kind of plateau on top of the hill. We want to actually transform it into an urban farm. My wife and this woman and the other couple are master gardeners and have gone through the master gardener program and are both master gardeners. And I ended up going back to school and ended up with a graduate degree in environmental history. And so that's another thing that I have been pulling into my work. My work now also encompasses and blends nature in many ways. And I've also done a little bit of work with Will Allen [CEO of Growing Power] in Milwaukee. I don't know, are you making it to Milwaukee at all? MJ: Not on this trip. SJ: OK. Yeah. MJ: But later, I hope. SJ: Yeah, but he's one of the persons that you should talk to in Milwaukee. Will Allen, who is like the urban garden group guru. I was teasing him because a couple of weeks ago he was with Michelle Obama when Michelle declared war on obesity. Now he was one of the speakers there at this event. She asked him to come because of what he's been doing in urban farming. Anyway, I'm saying all this to say is like this one little thing, while we're concerned about housing and work toward having folks in safe, secure, affordable and quality housing here in Frogtown, the thing that we have been concentrating most of our effort on is greening Frogtown. So last year we also launched an initiative to bring 1,000 trees to Frogtown, planted one small orchard and we're planting another one this spring of seven trees, but planting them throughout Frogtown on vacant lots, working toward food security right here in Frogtown. And this year, it's been focusing on what we're calling Frogtown Farm, this small, 4 acre site out of a big 13 acre site that we hope to transform into a farm. So anyway, that's kind of what we're working on. MJ: It's interesting. We need to wrap up, but going back to the very first thing you said. You started your story with the ancestor who escaped to Red Wing. SJ: Yeah, exactly. Oh yeah, yeah, right. MJ: And it seems to me that running through the entire hour that we've been talking, there are two themes that are kind of inter-threaded in an interesting way. One is a story of kind of regeneration. And the other is the story of fugitivity. SJ: Yeah. [SJ and MJ laugh.] SJ: It is, right. Still running. MJ: And those two things-- Well, in a certain way, right. Different kinds of running and different occasions for it. But I guess I just wanted to kind of put that out there and see if that's a paradigm that makes sense for thinking about the kind of work that you've done. The kind of political work. SJ: It does. One thing I didn't mention is I never thought-- I have pictures of myself in my grandmother's garden, and I'm sitting here talking to you about art, but I'm also mad passionate about plants. I have a degree in art, but I also have a degree now in landscape design, and another one, like I said, in environmental history. So I'm combining all this stuff up together. I've been mad passionate about plants. We planted fruit trees out here, and one of my biggest accomplishments-- and I've gotten awards and recognitions from a lot of folks, and I've been fortunate and blessed to have been awarded fellowships to do this and do that and travel. But every year, I look forward to entering my plums at the State Fair. And I've won three blue ribbons. I've won now four red ribbons for my plums. I have the best plums in the state of Minnesota, Mount Royal plums. And that's what I've been focusing on now. I mean, you need to come back here in the summertime and see. Actually, it's kind of funny. Last spring I was over at Peter's house, because he called me because he had extra hostas. And so I went over there digging hostas out of Beth and Peter's garden. And I was telling him that I have got to get him back in the spring, so he can look at these hostas and see how they're doing. And so that's this other conversation that folks have and that people have been having, as we have been trying to raise the importance of greening. But kind of going back to what you were saying, too, I have pictures of myself in my grandmother's garden. My grandmother was the daughter of a farmer, and I never thought that I would come back to this. My wife, she has a whole other story. Now she grew up in South Dakota, a big farm family, and she has retained all of those canning skills. And so, every fall, we're putting away all those things that come out of our garden. And so there's this thread that runs through my life. I had an aunt that used to tease me and call me little George Washington Carver [African American scientist and botanist, 1864-1943]. And I only found out as an adult, several years ago now, that George Washington Carver was also an artist. He was a painter. And so to blend this art and this nature in some kind of way is something that kind of runs through. But you're also right about this thing with fugitivity, as you described it. I mean, I am always running as well and to different neighborhoods, different parts of the world. I have this restless curiosity, too, just to see and talk to folks and to learn as well. I mean, just like you're doing, too. One of the things that I've done, I've gotten a couple of research fellowships to do different things. And wherever I've gone, I've always ended up hanging out with folks on water. I mean, I haven't even talked to you about this. We don't have time at all for this, but throughout the African diaspora, I've always kind of gravitated toward the shore, whether it's along the river or on water. My father, my uncles, my grandfather used to drag me out in the boat. We always were fishing. Fishing to supplement our diets, but also the sport and the passion was also part of it. And I didn't realize that this was part of this maritime tradition that folks have had that they all tapped into. And it was in their minds as well, too. So wherever I've gone, for other reasons, I have ended up hanging out with boat builders. And right now on my computer. I'm preparing a slide thing that I'm going to be doing. I've also made boats and used boat building techniques in sculpture as well, too. Steam bending, forming wood around a particular form. But saying all that to say, it's like I have this restless curiosity, going to all these places and talking to folks, and trying to use that in some way to inform my work, and I still do that. I still am passionate about that. Now I should probably let you go, man. What time do you have to be downtown? Now? MJ: Well, I'm late, but it's OK. Thank you so much. It's been a pleasure. SJ: Well, yeah, this is going to be some rich document that you'll have here.

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