The Gold Dollar
The Gold Dollar is the first of a series of multi-media art works that explore why Austin, Texas is the only city among the top ten fastest-growing cities in the U.S. with an African-American population that is shrinking. Part of a research-based art project, The Gold Dollar considers and creates visual sites of conversation around the racial history of Austin and the spaces where that history is still visible.
The title is taken from one of the first black newspapers published in the Southwest after the Civil War. The Gold Dollar was founded in 1876 to serve the needs of freed slaves by Reverend Jacob Fontaine, a freedman himself who moved to Austin with his family in the 1870s. The building where Fontaine lived, ran a school, and published
The Gold Dollar was located at the site of what is today 2402 San Gabriel Street, in the West Campus neighborhood of the University of Texas at Austin. That building at 2402 San Gabriel Street was the heart of the first black community associated with Austin, Texas after the Civil War, “Wheatville.” It is the only remaining physical remnant of the Wheatville Community. The structure was granted historic landmark status in 1977. In 2015 it became home to Freedmen’s BBQ, an upscale, western-themed eatery owned by restauranteur Cuatro Kowalski.
Material and symbolic traces of this historic site appear throughout The Gold Dollar. They include typeset letters spelling “The Gold Dollar” and “Freedmen’s”; handfuls of dirt taken from the site at 2402 San Gabriel Street; and dream-like foliage made from glass smalti and beads. The composition is anchored by a shaped photographic transfer made from an image of the original 1876 building that stands table-like at the work’s center. On either side of the table - a space of conversation, communion, or debate- are figural representations of Reverend Jacob Fontaine and Cuatro Kowalski.