Sounds of a Whippoorwill Josephine. July 2019, Josephine Sculpture Park, Frankfort, Ky

Justin and Shannon Roberts – Choices at Calloway County Public Library

Choices at Calloway County Public Library

Seven years ago, Justin and I transitioned from food service workers to Bentwood Willow Furniture Artisians, made possible by the support of the Kentucky Arts Council. As a result, we now own Walk the Willow Furniture and Sculpture.

We gained the opportunity in the grassy knoll behind our public library. While finishing my degree at Murray State, our oldest daughter attended an after school program at CCPL. She read over 200 books and made lasting friendships. After graduating Magna Cum Laude, I attended my first CCPL Board meeting. I was shocked at the blatant racism and misogyny coming from the mouths of these library “advocates”. The public comment section was full of criticisms. Afraid to make the situation worse, we decided not to attend any more board meetings. Instead, we facilitated “Choices at CCPL” a social, art installation bringing positive rhetoric and energy to our library, however the installation had to do more than work in a figurative sense. Coming from humble backgrounds and a folk art tradition, the function must equal the form.

Working in the gardens of retired professors between willow furniture orders, Justin learned about the biological effects of non-native plants as he removed them by hand. Invasive plants harm native forests, ground-nesting birds, and butterfly populations. According to the US Forest Service, 50-80% of Kentucky’s forests are invaded, with some areas reaching 81-100% compromised. This work strengthened Justin’s relationship with nature. As he traveled across the state, Justin noticed these unwanted and harmful plants everywhere. As a way to educate rural Kentuckians about the problem, he focused on using invasive plant species for armature and sustainable willow for the detail work.

On March 24th, with 1,600 Privet plants, the first phase – a 15 foot dome – was completed and Phase II – an interactive maze – is set for completion Winter 2019. The last element consists of a spiral woven pedestal, on top a highly polished stainless steel book will reflect the gaze of those who look into it, speaking to the empathetic nature of reading, Since beginning “Choices” in December, with the help of over 200 volunteers we completed “Sounds of a Whippoorwill- Josephine” and “Sounds of a Whipperwill Bernheim”, simultaneously eradicating over 2,500 invasives in three counties across Kentucky. We are now co-founding the New South Arts Initiative, whose mission is to support and grow bio and cultural diversity in the American South through art and art-related activities. The seed grant made possible by The Pollination Project will help us finish Choices at CCPL and lay the groundwork for future programs rooted in Deep Ecology and Ecocentisim.