by Elisa Alvarado, James Barela and Sriratana Sutasirisap
The Wise Cemetery sits on the outskirts of Mart and includes among its graves those of African Americans who were born as slaves. Many of the graves are overgrown, unmarked or weathered to the point of illegibility. When Jeanie Smith, the owner of the property, undertook initial clean up of the site she discovered an abundance of bottles, glass, marbles, and other reflective objects strewn throughout the gravesites. Further research revealed that the glass objects found on the graves were used as a symbolic representation, to mirror this life and the next.
Unlike the unmarked graves, an unmarked glass bottle can be dated by the top, clarity of the glass, color, and marks. Using 11 bottles found on the site, we were able to identify manufacturing time periods. Historian Diane Winters found death certificates for 51 people buried at Wise cemetery, and a survey team estimated that around 120 graves are on the site in total. Though most of these graves remain unmarked, the general pattern of grave placement moved from southwest to northeast, oldest to newest respectively. We photographed the bottles and placed them in ascending order over an outline of the cemetery. The size of the bottle images were then altered proportionally to reflect the time the bottle was produced with the largest bottle representing the largest period of production. The names of people buried there were placed below the bottle mapping, with timelines placed on either side to visually compare the lifespan of each person to the lifespan of the bottles’ production.
Initially, the idea of mapping unmarked graves with unmarked bottles seemed impossible. However, working with the information known about the graves and uncovering information about the bottles allowed us as designers to give a voice to the buried past.
by Christine Wu
Reworking of above map to emphasize the names of the people buried at the cemetery, and the connection to the bottle dates.