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Lunch and Learn: Groundhog Archaeology and the Mary Street Midden Project

Tuesday, June 25, 2024

12:00-1:00 pm

Join us at noon at the Floyd County Carnegie Library Cultural Arts Center on June 25th for a new season of Lunch and Learn presentations to be held the last Tuesday of each month. Former staff member, Al Gorman, has returned part-time to the Cultural Arts Center to help curate this series of talks and presentations. June’s topic is at the intersection of art and history and will be presented by Louisville artist, Patrick Donley, and is also offered in support of our current exhibition, Star Wars Meets Indiana Jones: The Hero’s Journey of Dr. David West Reynolds.

Connections with the science and methodology of archaeology, plus a genuine sense of personal discovery, connect both Dr. Reynolds’ and Donley’s projects and efforts. Both are natural born finders of lost objects. While Dr. Reynolds began his career in the pure sciences with paleontology, he would later become a well-known creator in George Lucas’ Star Wars universe. Donley, on the other hand, had been a long time exhibiting painter before events at his art studio compelled him to refocus his efforts along a more archaeological angle. So what is Groundhog Archaeology and the Mary Street Midden Project?

In 2019, Donley discovered a late 19th-century trash dump buried underneath the cracked foundation of his art studio warehouse building located on Mary Street in Louisville’s Germantown neighborhood. In fact, a wild groundhog that Donley named “Phyllis” and branded as his project’s mascot had tunneled throughout the midden and would make occasional appearances from the crack in his concrete slab studio floor. Over a two-year period of time, Donley watched Phyllis raise two broods of young on his property.

In our Ohio River Valley area, pickers and antique dealers are familiar with digging up 19th-century privies and cisterns in search of old pottery, coins, and rare glass bottles. Donley hit the jackpot with his Phyllis-find on his property which turned out to be a dump site that was active from about 1890 to 1920 when the Herman Poll storage warehouse was later constructed on top of the site.

What began as a nuisance turned into an obsession as thousands of antique bottles and ceramic dishes both intact and broken began to find their way out of Donley’s studio hole and quickly filled the shelves he was building to hold them all. The artist became fascinated by the complex material culture he was uncovering and what it revealed about Louisvillians during this moment, which included evidence of the Spanish Flu epidemic that hit this country after the end of the First World War.

Displaying great patience and an amazing memory for sifted and washed pottery shards, Donley began reconstructing many of the broken vessels he was uncovering in an attempt to make something whole from all the fragments that were surfacing. Broken jugs and old broken transferware china held together with blue painters tape lined tables awaiting the discovery of those missing pieces that would complete the artifact as best as possible. Afterall, many of the objects released from the soil were put there because they were broken to begin with.

With a fraction of the site’s potential explored, Donley has taken a big step and created a not for profit, 501(c)(3) with a local board of interested history enthusiasts with the intention of creating an onsite museum, the Mary Street Midden Project and Museum. Here is your opportunity to meet Patrick Donley and learn more about how he is bringing history to life in his old art studio.

Lunch and Learn is free to the public, but registration is required due to limited seating. Bring a sack lunch and enjoy the presentation.

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