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  • Jennifer Jewell

IN HONOR OF JUNETEENTH: THE ANNE SPENCER HOUSE & GARDEN MUSEUM, with SHAUN SPENCER-HESTER


FOODSCAPING - with Brie Arthur. Photo courtesy of Brie Arthur, all rights reserved.
 

 


In honor of Juneteenth celebrations coming up, we check in on the Anne Spencer House & Garden in Lynchburg, VA. The home and garden of Harlem Renaissance poet Anne Spencer and her husband Edward, this garden remains the only known fully restored historic garden of an African American in the U.S. 


We’re in conversation with Anne and Edward’s granddaughter, Shaun Spencer-Hester – who serves as the Executive Director and Curator of the House & Garden Museum. Shaun shares so much more information on the history, (including new discoveries like Lady Bird Johnson's encouraging Shaun's father to restore the "worthy" garden), the present, and the vibrant future of this important historic treasure of a garden and its gardeners.


Anne Spencer was a poet, civil rights advocate, teacher, librarian, wife, mother, and gardener. She was perhaps most well known as an accomplished figure of the Harlem Renaissance, the black literary and cultural movement of the 1920s.


Born in 1882, Anne was the daughter of former slaves. Her mother enrolled her in school for the first time when she was 11, at the Virginia Theological Seminary and College (now Virginia University of Lynchburg). Six years later, Spencer graduated as valedictorian.


Anne was married to Edward Spencer in 1901 and from 1903 to her death in 1975, Anne and Edward created and nurtured their remarkable garden around the beautiful Queen Anne Style home Edward designed and built for them in Lynchburg, VA. The Spencer’s enjoyed their garden as a private space of reflection and inspiration for Anne’s poetry as well as a hub and gathering space for civic and social clubs. Leading African Americans thinkers of the time including W.E.B. Du Bois, Zora Neale Hurston, Langston Hughes, and Martin Luther King, Jr., James Weldon Johnson, and George Washington Carver. Though she lived in Virginia her whole life, she maintained close friendships with many Harlem Renaissance writers, including James Weldon JohnsonLangston Hughes, and W.E.B. Du Bois. She worked with Johnson and others to establish the Lynchburg chapter of the NAACP and served for 20 years as the librarian for Dunbar High School.


In 1973, Anne became only the second African American poet to be included in the Norton Anthology of Modern Poetry (1973).

 

Left to its own devices after Anne’s death, her garden became overgrown and from 1983 to 1984 the local Hillside Garden Club of Lynchburg took on the first restoration of the garden, and over the years, the Hilliside Garden Club as well The Garden Conservancy, and the African American Heritage Cultural Heritage Foundation have joined in the efforts to preserve, sustain, and grow the garden. To date, the Anne Spencer Garden remains the only restored ornamental garden of an African American in the US. Here’s to more as we grow forward.

 

Enjoy!


All photos courtesy of the Anne Spencer House & Garden Museum, all rights reserved.



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JOIN US again next week, when in celebration of the planetary moment of the Summer Solstice on June 20th, we get ….still. We’re in conversation with Artist/Photographer Mary Jo Hoffman all about her daily photographic practice and her new book of the same name: Still: The Art of Noticing. There’s no better intention than that for any point in any season. That’s next week, right here, listen in.

 


 

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Thinking out loud this week:


Yep – the only restored and public garden of an African American in the US.

 

We have so much work to do – to grow….. Let’s do it….

 

How? Awareness, support, action in words, volunteer hours, donations, and amplifying the work of groups doing the work.

 

Same way we grow our gardens….Dig in.

 

When I was a young mother, twenty years ago now, my aunt Bettina Balding Blackford, one of the lead gardeners in an historic garden in Charlottesville, VA sent me a small book for Christmas. Entitled, Half My World Half My World : The Garden of Anne Spencer, A History and Guide - by Rebecca Frischkorn,  And Reuben M. Rainey, it was the first I had heard of this poet as an incredible gardener of our times.


I was entranced by her life, her garden, and her poetry – all of which were intermingled in who SHE was. It was one of the first glimpses I had that gardening – which was often diminished as a dilletante hobby by people around me pursuing more important careers like law, medicine, or corporate ladders - could be and was as important an expression of a person as any other aspect of them. And could be foundational to the cultural, economic, socio-political and creative quality of one’s life.

 

SO thank you Anne Spencer – your poetic words, your social and political activism, and your garden ways, for making my small garden half my world too.

 

 

 

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