FOUNDING MOTHER: Wheatley to Washington


My plan is to recode the skies of above Green-Wood with the poems of Phillis Wheatley. The program will unfold into and over the landscape. This project developed from an exceptional 18th century exchange that inspired me. Wheatley was the first published African American poet and was enslaved. In 1775 Wheatley sent Washington a poem titled aptly "To His Excellency, General Washington" by Phillis Wheatley. Miraculously, in the midst of war, George Washington responded, beginning a friendship of sorts.



·       Sky Letter banners will display Phillis Wheatley’s poems at scheduled intervals.

·       Professional photographers will document the flying banners.

·       From above Green-Wood the Poems will be visible throughout all of South Brooklyn. 



·       The artist will engage the public in Green-Wood and discuss them.

·       Large-scale prints (20’ x 30’) of the Sky Lettered Poems will be place in Green-Wood.

·       Visitors to Green-Wood will write their own poetic request of our times and leaders.

·       Scheduled Poets will react to the poems of Wheatley in the air and on the earth and discuss with audiences.


FOUNDING MOTHER: Wheatley to Washington will be the sixth project from the “Farther Land” series (2014 – present) to come to fruition. This work is a poetical intervention that allows us to see one complicated, integrated, history. That is the very definition of the vision of a more perfect union.


In our current moment of false, perfect, pasts, this is the only way forward. 


Below are two excerpts. The first excerpt is from "To His Excellency, General Washington" by Phillis Wheatley. The second is George Washington's response.:



Excerpt 1:  Mailed October 1775, a few months after the beginning of the revolution. 



Excerpt 2:  Miraculously, in the midst of war, George Washington finds time to respond in his own hand on February 28th, 1776.





"To His Excellency, General Washington" 



Thee, first in peace and honors—we demand

The grace and glory of thy martial band.

Fam’d for thy valour, for thy virtues more,

Hear every tongue thy guardian aid implore!


The land of freedom’s heaven-defended race!

Fix’d are the eyes of nations on the scales,

For in their hopes Liberty’s arm prevails.


Lament thy thirst of boundless power too late.

Proceed, great chief, with virtue on thy side,

Thy ev’ry action let the Goddess guide.

A crown, a mansion, and a throne that shine,

With gold unfading, Washington! Be thine.




"I thank you most sincerely for your polite notice of me, in the elegant Lines you



the style and manner exhibit a striking proof of your great poetical Talents. In honour of which, and as a tribute justly due to you, I would have published the Poem, had I not been apprehensive, that, while I only meant to give the World this new instance of your genius, I might have incurred the imputation of Vanity. This and nothing else, determined me not to give it place in the public Prints.

If you should ever come to Cambridge, or near Head Quarters, I shall be happy to see a person so favoured by the Muses, and to whom nature has been so liberal and beneficent in her dispensations. 


I am, with great Respect, Your obedient humble servant,


George Washington