United: The Acorn Project

Feature Article »
By Liz Smith, Associate Chair | Associate Professor of Art, Ceramics »

Detail view of the flag

United: The Acorn Project, a collaborative ground mural made up of thousands of hand-made ceramic acorns in an array of skin toned hues and varied forms was created by a large and diverse array of individuals. The idea, generated by artist and UCA Associate Professor and Associate Chair, Liz Smith, was inspired by the UCA Suffrage Centennial Celebration which successfully took place this semester despite a global pandemic! Financial support for this project came from the impressive work of Associate Dean of the CAHSS and UCA Suffrage Centennial visionary Dr. Gayle Seymour and grant writer Jennifer Deering.

We know, thanks to the relentless persistence of the Suffragettes a hundred years ago, the 19th Amendment gave everyone the right to vote on paper but we know too that discriminatory practices, especially towards black and brown Americans, on the state level kept many people from voting by utilizing discriminatory practices such as poll taxes and literacy tests. As an example, one of the makers of acorns for this project, 89-year-old Mrs. Alberta Tucker, remembered for years being asked to guess how many beans were in a jar in order to register to vote! Not until 1965 when the Voting Rights Bill was signed into law by president Lyndon B. Johnson were those discriminatory practices outlawed.

Yet we know that today people continue to experience barriers to voting in the form of voter ID laws, and disallowing online registration forcing people to travel far distances to register in person. These regulations disproportionately impact low income and minority Americans. Any law that limits the ability of people to cast their ballots is one that limits the ability for our government to represent all of us.

United- The Acorn project is a metaphor for the importance of a representative government that is created BY all the people FOR all the people. Each acorn, made by an individual, represents the power of a single vote and just as a small acorn grows into a mighty and lasting oak tree so each of our votes has the power to develop into powerful and long-standing legislation. As the Suffragettes knew, It is only through all of our voices being heard, the diverse array of us uniting together to vote, that we can create a government that serves and supports the needs of the many in these United States rather than just those of the few.

Some of the makers of the acorns in attendance at the UCA Suffrage Centennial Celebration event on October 20th.

Hundreds of makers took part in this project. From the consumers at Independent Living Services, the residents of Bethlehem House and those of College Square to many UCA students and student organizations, to the unbelievable women of the Delta Sigma Theta sorority whose many chapters across the state literally made at least a third of the acorns in the flag. The resulting ground mural is a powerful visual representation of the flag of the United States of America in a variety of forms and colors acting as a visual cue to both ponder the importance of representative government and as a call to action to take part in the work necessary to create and sustain a government that supports and defends all of us.

A video of the entire October 20th Suffrage Centennial Celebration event can be seen here.

Talks specifically addressing United: The Acorn Project start at minute 17:07 and end at 30:04, with a particularly powerful presentation given by UCA faculty Dr. Riva Brown.