A conversation that began in 2020 between two scholars of Caribbean and Andean art and architecture about the many ephemeral architecture traditions of the Americas and their neglect by architectural history led to the development of a wide-ranging and influential ongoing conference and workshop series, The Forgotten Canopy: Ecology, Ephemeral Architecture, and Imperialism in the Caribbean, South American, and Transatlantic Worlds. Associate Professors of Art History Paul Niell (FSU) and Stella Nair (UCLA) co-organized The Forgotten Canopy core program of three separate conferences at the Center for 17th– and 18th–Century Studies of the Clark Memorial Library of UCLA.
Each of the Forgotten Canopy conferences is accompanied by a critical workshop funded by the Terra Foundation for American Art and sponsored in partnership with the American Indian Studies Center of UCLA directed by Professor of Anthropology and Gender Studies Shannon Speed. The series of events brought together scholars from a range of humanities disciplines along with Indigenous Knowledge Keepers, and graduate students from FSU and UCLA. Ultimately the core program will result in a website and a publication on the subject.
Conference 1 of the series, which focused on Ecology, convened in November 2022. Indigenous Knowledge Keepers and scholars from art history, archaeology, cultural anthropology, and archaeobotany discussed the complex ecologies from which ephemeral architecture arises in the Indigenous Caribbean and South American worlds. The workshop was held in the university’s Mildred E. Mathias Botanical Garden. A team of graduate students from FSU and UCLA researched and developed a guidebook for identifying plants in the garden that had been historically used in architecture. Presentations were made by Bob Ramírez, President of the Gabrielino Tongva Springs Foundation, and Bonny Bentzin, Deputy Chief Sustainability Officer of UCLA. Finally, participants were honored with a ceremonial opening by Ruby Ortega, Tribal Chairman of the Fernandeno Tatavium Band of Mission Indians and a closing by William Madrigal and the Traditional Cahuilla (kaweeyah) Bird singers.
In February 2023, scholars at Conference 2: Ephemeral Architecture focused on the fleeting and often overlooked American ephemeral architecture traditions themselves, discussing the ways in which distinct peoples, regions, and states have used their local ecology to transform their built environments–often in the face of threats from imperial states. Graduate students again contributed to the organization of the event, and three FSU grads – Amanda Brito, Sheila Scoville, and Estefanía Vallejo Santiago – traveled to UCLA to participate. In a workshop at Kuruvungna Sacred Springs in Santa Monica, CA, a tour of the site was given by Bob Ramírez, and Choctaw Knowledge Keeper Brenner Billy led students in the construction of a scale model of a chukka, a traditional Choctaw house.
The conference series will conclude with Conference 3: Imperialism on April 14 & 15, 2023, which will be livestreamed (registration details below). Scholars will gather once again at the UCLA Clark Memorial Library to consider the impacts of imperial transformations in the Caribbean and South America on ephemeral architecture traditions, and the connections between these regions and the larger Atlantic world. The final workshop will be held at the Chumash Museum in Thousand Oaks, CA and will include presentations by Alan Sawyer of the Chumash people and Everett Osceola, Cultural Ambassador for the Seminole Tribe of Florida.