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Kea Tawana's Ark

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  • Location:

    Newark, New Jersey, USA (Map)

  • Status:

    Non Extant

  • Artist:
  • Built:

    begun late 1960s

  • Materials:

    timbers, slate, stained glass, wood

About the Artist/Site

Kea Tawana began collecting the materials for her giant ship in the late 1960s, not long after Newark’s Central Ward was torn apart by social unrest. In the ensuing twenty years, Tawana, working alone and using only a cart and hand tools, gathered timbers, slate, stained glass, and flooring from the city’s abandoned buildings, and by the early 1980s she had shaped her selections into a three-story high, eight-foot long escape vessel.

“There’s no place safe on land,” Tawana told reporters when they asked whether the Ark, which had found temporary safe haven on the parking lot of the Humanity Baptist Church, was biblically inspired. Tawana said she had been born in Japan, the daughter of an American civil engineer and his Japanese wife; she had lost them both in cities under siege: her mother had died during wartime bombing and her father was shot in an internment camp near San Diego. In adulthood, Tawana had been burned out of many apartments in New York City and Newark. She had even been forced to move her massive ship, after a development company bought the land adjacent to the church lot and demanded the Ark’s removal. The Humanity Baptist’s African American congregation had welcomed Tawana and her Ark to their property, and she served as church caretaker.

But the City of Newark, intent upon erasing the neglect that had made the Ark’s raw materials readily available, insisted in 1987 that Tawana’s ship was unsafe and demanded its demolition. Extensive press coverage, praise from architects and art historians, and letters from local school children did not alter the City’s position. After it threatened to punish Humanity Baptist Church for failing to evict the builder and her creation, Tawana signed a consent agreement to relocate the Ark or to dismantle it if a new location could not be found.

Unable to secure a new site, Tawana destroyed the Ark in the summer of 1988, rather than face the humiliation of City destruction.

~Holly Metz

SPACES Archive Holdings

1 folder: clippings, correspondence, images

Related Documents

Letter to Hall Rammel from SPACES/Seymour Rosen, 4/28/1987

Letter to SPACES/Seymour Rosen from Hal Rammel, 4/24/1987

Letter to SPACES/Seymour Rosen from Camilo J. Vergara, Columbia U, 3/24/1987

Update on Kea’s Ark, 3/18/1986

Description of Kea’s Ark , 3/8/1987

Letter to Mayor Sharpe James from Ann F. Oppenhimer, Folk Art Society of America, 1/15/1988

Form for membership to Folk Art Society of America

Memo with contact info for Camilo J. Vergara

Contact info for Fred Zewel, Kea’s attorney

Letter to Camilo Vergara from Cynthia Pansing/SPACES, 5/27/1988

Note to SPACES/Seymour Rosen from Joyce Elliott, Blueprints, 3/31/1987

Note to SPACES/Seymour Rosen from Camilo J. Vergara, 10/20/1987

Letter to Kea Tawana from SPACES/Seymour Rosen, 10/1/1987

Letter to SPACES/Seymour Rosen from Sharpe James. Mayor of Newark NJ, 4/10/1987

Letter to Camilo Vergara from Cynthia Pansing/SPACES, 5/27/1988

Letter to Newark Mayor Sharpe James from SPACES/Seymour Rosen, 4/2/1988

Affidavit for presentation and statement in court

Various handwritten fliers to defend Kea’s Ark

Letter to Governor Thomas Kean from Didi Barrett, The Clarion, 4/3/1987

Affidavit for Kea’s Ark hearing, 4/28/1987

Affidavit for Kea’s Ark hearing, 4/28/1987

Letter to Lynda Hartigan, Smithsoian from Didi Barrett, Museum of American Folk Art, 4/27/1987

Letter to Kea Tawana from David Shane, Columbia University

Letter from Camilo J. Vergara, Columbia University, 3/27/1987

Letter to Mayor James Sharpe from Barbara Kaufman-Cate, 4/5/1987

Letter to Governor Thomas Kean from Barbara Kaufman-Cate, 4/5/1987

Memorandum from Newark Dept of Law, 3/19/1987

Letter to Millard L. Monroe from Reverend JW Brown and James Richard, 3/5/1987

Letter to Kea Tawana from Reverend JW Brown, 4/1/1987

Memorandum from Harold Lucas to Edwin McLucas, 3/24/1987

Letter to Kea Tawana from George D. Younger, American Baptistry Churchs of NJ, 3/19/1987

Community Resident Alert

Letter to Jack Yablonsky, Newark Dept of Land Use Control from Phyllis Mount, 4/10/1987

Letter to Governor Thomas Kean from Robert Bishop, Museum of American Art, 4/3/1987

Western union mailgram between D Barrett, Museum of American Folk Art and Henry Martinez, Newark City Council, 3/30/1987

Letter to Barbara from Didi, 4/2/1987

Letter to Fred Zemel from Didi Barrett, Museum of American Folk Art, 4/3/1987

Western union mailgram between D Barrett, Museum of American Folk Art and Sharpe James, Mayor, 3/30/1987

Letter to Didi Barrett, Clarion from Mayor Sharpe James, 4/2/1987

Agenda for Friends of Kea’s Ark Meeting, 4/23/1987

Form to support Kea’s Ark

Letter to Fred Zemel from Didi Barrett, Museum of American Folk Art, 5/8/1987

Letter to Fred Zemel from Lynda Roscoe Hartigan, National Museum of American Art, 5/5/1987

 

Map and site information

263 Bergen St
Newark, New Jersey, United States
Latitude/Longitude: 40.736285 / -74.194528

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