Student Exhibit Celebrating Effie Lee Newsome Wins Five Awards

Philadelphia Flower Show

Auburn University graduate landscape architecture students Taylor Chavers, Lily Dendy, Dustin Elston, Sadie Gurkin, Emily Gustafson, Rob Johnson, Vera Liu, Trae Watson, and Alexander Wayland received five awards for their exhibit, Mixed Shades, Much Joy, at the Pennsylvania Horticultural Society (or PHS) Philadelphia Flower Show. The exhibit received the Philadelphia Trophy, the Bulkley Medal of The Garden Club of America, Special Achievement Award from the Garden Club Federation of Pennsylvania, Herb Society of America Green Ribbon, and PHS Gold Medal. The PHS Philadelphia Flower Show is the nation’s largest and the world’s longest-running horticultural event. Started in 1829, it has an average attendance of 250,000 visitors from across the globe each year.

The exhibit design project was a semester-long endeavor by the students. Abra Lee of Conquer the Soil, presented history and theory content for the course, focusing especially on African American gardeners and landscape architects. The resulting exhibit focused on the work of Effie Lee Newsome, a Harlem Renaissance writer who was born in Philadelphia (1885) and later moved to Birmingham, Alabama. She created a children’s magazine column, The Little Page, under editor W.E.B. Du Bois. Newsome also wrote children’s poetry, including the book Gladiola Gardens, which celebrated and connected the beauty of Black children and nature.

“O little girl, O little boy, In gardens of mixed shades, much joy,
One really has to think of you, For you are many colors too”
– Effie Lee Newsome, Gladiola Gardens

Gladiola Gardens was remarkable at the time it was published for being one of the first volumes of poetry written especially for African American children. About the work, Abra Lee said, “It was uplifting for children to find themselves and their experience reflected in both the illustrations and in the poems. The Auburn students wanted to highlight, bring to life, and present Effie Lee Newsome’s beautiful and colorful poems in a new way through this exhibit.”

Over the course of the semester, the graduate landscape architecture students produced over 60 exhibit designs, which were narrowed down through critiques and class discussions with David Hill, associate professor and graduate landscape architecture chair. Inspired by Newsome’s legacy, the students incorporated portions of her poems into the exhibit and reflected them in the design. The exhibit is centered around a 30’ square full of flowers and trees. Three-sided viewing booths, or apertures, are positioned outside of the square where attendees can step inside and see the exhibit framed in a new way. Phrases from Newsome’s poetry that connect to the exhibit were written on the walls and placed in signs in the exhibit that could be read through the apertures. Professor Hill stated, “When you approach the exhibit you see a wild and wooly mosaic of plants, but when you view the space through the constructed apertures suddenly new textures and color relationships emerge that connect the viewer to the poetry and lead them to view the garden in a new way.”

This design-build project gave students an opportunity to experience the entire design process start-to-finish—creating the design, selecting materials, negotiating changes, constructing the signs and apertures, and installing the final exhibit.

Generous funding for the exhibit was provided by the Pennsylvania Horticultural Society and student travel was supported by Longwood Gardens.

Related people:
David Hill