Jeffrey C. Kasch Foundation Research Trip: Vyta Baselice

I received Kasch summer funding to conduct research on tabby architecture in Georgia and Florida. Tabby is an early form of concrete, introduced to the North American continent by early Spanish and English colonists and later employed by slaves to construct utilitarian buildings.

The material production process was exceedingly labor-intensive and involved collecting oyster shells, burning them to high temperatures to extract lime, crushing and then mixing them with sand, water and more oyster shells. According to some estimates, producing tabby was one of the most labor-intensive tasks slaves had to perform, consuming as much as 30 percent of their work-week. I visited scores of tabby ruins and historic sites to learn about the material production and construction process. This experience helped me expand my thinking about modern concrete and its roots in tabby. My dissertation will challenge conventional narratives and presentations of concrete as an inherently modern and scientific medium. Instead, I will use tabby to argue that the history of concrete is significantly more complex, reflecting intersecting histories of race, gender and labor. 

The funding also supported my trip to experience and photograph conceptual artist Beverly Buchanan's 1981 tabby installation in Brunswick, Ga. Her artwork provides insight into ways 20th century black artists employed concrete and tabby to experiment with material expressions of historical trauma and legacies of slavery. I used this research as the foundation for my conference presentations on Beverly Buchanan's work and the broader history of vernacular concrete in the United States. I presented this material at the American Studies Association conference in Chicago and will formulate another paper for a conference on art and work at Northwestern University in spring 2018.